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Harvard College Dean Evelynn Hammonds Steps Down

5.28.13

Evelynn Hammonds

Evelynn Hammonds

This updated, expanded report was filed May 28 at 5:00 p.m., succeeding a brief account earlier today.

Harvard College dean Evelynn M. Hammonds is stepping down at the end of the academic year. According to the news release, posted at the Harvard Public Affairs and Communications website, Hammonds—the Rosenkrantz professor of the history of science and of African and African American studies—will relinquish her post on July 1, take a sabbatical year, and return to teaching and research in the history of science and African and African American studies. She will also lead a new program for the study of race and gender in science and medicine—a field in which she has long conducted research—housed within the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute.

In the announcement, Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) dean Michael D. Smith called Hammonds “an important partner in our efforts to reinvigorate the student experience at Harvard College.” President Drew Faust said Hammonds had “led Harvard College through years of remarkable transformation” and had “fully invested herself in improving the experience of our undergraduates both inside and outside the classroom, and in promoting a culture of inclusion and community across the College.”

A Tumultuous Year

During this academic year, Hammonds, as head of the Administrative Board, was responsible for directing the investigation into allegations of undergraduate academic misconduct involving an unprecedented number of students collaborating inappropriately on a take-home final examination in May 2012. The investigation lasted right up to the year-end winter break in late December, and proved so taxing that Hammonds had to give up her fall-term teaching. The investigation proper seemed to have come to an end in February, when Dean Smith announced that dozens of students had been sanctioned for their behavior. But in March, The Boston Globe reported that early in the Ad Board investigation, resident deans’ administrative e-mail accounts had been examined to determine the source of a memorandum, marked confidential, that ultimately reached The Harvard Crimson. The ensuing controversy was magnified sharply in early April, when Smith reported to the faculty that further reviews of a resident dean’s e-mail accounts had been undertaken with authorization from Hammonds and the general counsel’s office, but without Smith’s knowledge or authorization.

On that occasion, President Faust said that “different choices should have been made,” and put in place an outside investigation of what was known and reported concerning the resident deans’ e-mail accounts, and appointed a University task force on policies for e-mail privacy. Dean Smith (who had jointly issued a March statement on the e-mail issue with Hammonds) characterized the revelation of additional searches, which he apparently learned about only a short time before the April faculty meeting, as “additional actions—concerning actions,” before matter-of-factly turning the meeting over to Hammonds for a fuller accounting.

Hammonds apologized to her FAS colleagues for “serious mistakes,” gave an account of what had happened and why, and ended with a highly emotional appeal, referring to her 10-year-old son, whom she said she had tried to teach to “own up to your mistakes, to apologize, and to make amends”—behavior she hoped she was modeling in her presentation to the faculty.

Two days later, the Crimson editorially called for her resignation. The newspaper called her role in authorizing the additional e-mail searches “shocking, disappointing, and disheartening,” part of a series of events that cumulatively “threaten the trust essential to an academic environment.”

On April 8, a number of faculty members, with significant representation among Hammonds’s departmental colleagues, wrote a letter to the Crimson expressing confidence in her decanal leadership and expressing the hope that she would remain in office.

Together, Hammonds’s April remarks and the letter gave the impression that she and close colleagues were working to keep her in office. The College deanship is a five-year term appointment; Hammonds became dean in mid 2008, so her term, and possible reappointment, were at hand.

The Deanship

As her College biography notes, Evelynn Hammonds joined the Harvard faculty in 2002, from MIT. (She earned her doctorate in the history of science from Harvard in 1993.) In the spring of 2005, following President Lawrence H. Summers’s controversial remarks on women in the sciences, Drew Faust, then dean of the Radcliffe Institute, oversaw two task forces–one on women faculty, chaired by Hammonds, and one on women in science and engineering, chaired by Barbara Grosz, Higgins professor of natural sciences and dean of science at the Radcliffe Institute. Shortly thereafter, Hammonds was appointed the University’s first senior vice provost for faculty development and diversity, charged with implementing the task-force recommendations and advising the president and provost on tenured appointments, the junior faculty members’ work environment and career prospects, and related issues.

Following Faust’s appointment as president, and her selection of Smith as FAS dean, Hammonds became College dean on June 1, 2008—something of a surprise appointment, given her prior service principally in University-level academic administrative affairs.

During her deanship, Hammonds was significantly involved in plans for undergraduate House renewal, now under way—and a major FAS priority for the Harvard capital campaign nearing public announcement; in extending student summer research experiences, which now involve science and engineering, social sciences, business-related subjects, and the recently launched humanities and arts immersion; and in assembling programming for “wintersession,” the unstructured time in January created when the University moved to a uniform academic calendar and thus scheduled College examinations before the December holiday (the offerings range from travel experiences to cooking to scuba lessons to short courses in engineering subjects).

During a brief interview in her first-floor University Hall office this morning, squeezed in just before she had to put on her academic gown for the Phi Beta Kappa literary exercises that begin formal Commencement-week activities, Hammonds said that “without question, working with the students and on behalf of the students within the administration” was the highlight of her experience as dean. (The news release mentions such achievements as renovating student social spaces, creating a BGLTQ office, and accommodating the Navy and Army ROTC programs on campus.)

She cited “tremendous progress” toward House renewal, now taking visible shape as the renovation of Old Quincy, the test project for architectural design and actual construction, nears completion, and said the program as a whole “will change Harvard College forever.”

She pointed with special pride to the four summer research programs. Together, she said, they constitute a “summer research village” where students who pursue their individual disciplinary work during the day can mingle after hours, forming new intellectual partnerships and engaging in new disciplinary syntheses.

She said the Ad Board investigation of academic misconduct during the year had involved an unprecedented number of cases and unprecedented complexity. It was natural, after such events, she said, to take stock of the processes, procedures, and institutions now in place to determine whether they could be improved should such cases arise in the future. In the meantime, she said, the broader work on academic culture and the community’s culture, still under way, should create a different context for both student behavior and Ad Board operations in the future.

Hammonds said that her term was up for renewal and was pending this year, and that she had begun discussing with Dean Smith last January the fact that she had been teaching and then holding down administrative positions at Harvard for 11 years without a break. The most recent academic year, she acknowledged, had been tiring and challenging. And so, she said, an opportunity for some relief was under discussion.

Next Steps

Hammonds remains dean and will therefore be involved in her traditional roles in the graduating seniors’ Class Day, tomorrow, and in conferring their degrees in Tercentenary Theatre on Thursday morning.

She said she will remain in the dean’s residence, an FAS property, for an unspecified time. After taking a sabbatical, she plans to begin “retooling” some of her courses, and working to launch her new research project on race and gender in science and medicine. It picks up from her prior MIT work as founding director of that institution’s center for the study of diversity in science, technology, and medicine, and would draw, she indicated, on Harvard experts in history, sociology, healthcare, genetics, anthropology, African and African American studies, and other fields to examine the role of race in science and medicine and “the impact of genomics on understanding human differences.”

In a separate communication announcing the news, Dean Smith—echoing the language of the news release—thanked her “for her work on behalf of Harvard’s undergraduates” and extended good wishes on her return to teaching and scholarship. He indicated that he would appoint an interim dean of Harvard College. Smith also indicated that he would appoint a committee in the fall (following the summer recess) to consult with students, faculty, and staff members and to advise him on the selection of a successor dean. That suggests that the interim dean may be in place for much, or all, of the 2013-2014 academic year.

Read the news release here.

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