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With Harvard’s Pforzheimer House faculty deans Anne Harrington ’82 and John R. Durant set to step down after 10 years, residents reflected on their tenure and expressed hopes for successors who uphold a supportive house culture.
Harrington and Durant received praise from students for establishing new traditions and welcoming students at house events. As a part of their time as deans, the pair introduced Camp Pfoho, a day-long retreat for the house’s incoming sophomores. Students praised the event, which is unique to Pfoho, for fostering a tight-knit house.
Manas Kulkarni ’25 found Harrington to be a welcoming dean.
“She was a big part of why the new sophomores felt extremely welcome into Pfoho,” he said.
Allison Y. Oh ’25 said the pair was “always involved” and frequently socialized with students in the dining hall.
“I’m really sad to see them go,” Oh said. “They’re always involved. They’re always like in the dhall, talking to us and they always host all these events and do stuff for the house.”
Harrington, a professor and director of undergraduate studies in the History of Science Department, and Durant, the director of the MIT Museum and an MIT adjunct professor, said they discovered a passion for supporting students in the residential setting after teaching and traveling with Harvard Summer School.
“We realized that we enjoy the close-quarters care for students we were teaching,” Harrington said in an interview.
Harrington said living with students is a source of “deep satisfaction” akin to “looking after your kids.”
The search for a new pair of faculty deans can take many months and involves consultation with administrators and residents.
Students, faculty, and staff are first given the opportunity to nominate tenured faculty to the role, though faculty can also self-nominate. From there, a search committee makes a list of priorities, and the Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana selects a few pairs of candidates, who interview with current students, house staff, and College officials. Khurana then consults with the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the University president before offering the position to a pair.
“Our toughest interview was with Pfoho students,” Harrington said. “Much tougher than the faculty deans, even much tougher than with the dean of the College who eventually appointed us.”
Jane J. Oh ’24 said she hopes for faculty deans that prioritize collaboration with students and across other houses, especially those in the Quad.
“From what I hear, pre-Covid times, the Quad community was very tight-knit, and I would love to see it get back to where it was before Covid,” she said.
Some said they are looking for faculty deans who will boost house spirit.
“I’m just looking for someone who’s really passionate about house spirit and getting to know the people here,” Allison Oh said.
John Stratton “Strat” Tolmie IV ’25 said Pfoho’s small population and location in the Quad mean strong faculty deans are “especially important” for the house.
“Pfoho being in the Quad, we also lose a lot of people to the river, to transfers,” Tolmie said. “We have a really nice community here, and I hope it stays that way.”
Others were more ambivalent about their house’s next leaders.
“For a large part of the student population, it really doesn’t matter who they are as long as they let us do our own thing,” Kulkarni said.
“As long as they don’t make any drastic changes, that’s fine,” Miguel Fernandez ’25 said.
The deans said those who can integrate themselves into the preexisting house environment while bringing their own unique personality and traditions are best fit for the role.
“It does take particular kinds of people — I think it’s very clear — to come in, so I would like and I hope that they really care about the place and that they really enjoy it,” Durant said. “In a way, it isn’t just a job, so you can’t really look at it quite like that.”
Still, Harrington said there is “no single way” to be a faculty dean.
“Everyone brings their own personality and style,” Harrington said. “What I hope is that the new faculty deans embrace this community that’s here and bring their own personality and passions into that community.”
While Harrington and Durant may be preparing to leave their formal roles at Pfoho, they said they will take with them the memories of their time at the house.
“They talk about the house system being transformative for students,” Harrington said. “I think it’s transformative for faculty deans.”
—Staff writer John N. Peña contributed reporting.
—Staff writer Ella L. Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ejones8100.
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