Provost Garber Meets with Students for Input on Harvard Design School Dean Search


As the search for a new dean at the Graduate School of Design progresses, students have re-published a letter identical to one issued during the school’s last dean search in an effort to argue that the same concerns from 12 years ago still exist today.

The letter, identical to that published during the School of Design’s 2007 dean search, was different only in that it was addressed this time to University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 rather than former Provost Steven E. Hyman. Over the course of the search Garber has met with students during two separate town hall discussions, each drawing dozens of participants.

Jessica A. Lim, vice president of student group Open Letters, said students raised a number of concerns in these meetings, including many already detailed in the open letter her organization re-published Feb. 5. The group crossed out and replaced the dean's name and the date in the 2007 letter, which was written by then-student forum president Ryan G. Bollom.

The letter lists students’ main priorities in the selection of a new dean, including finding someone who will support “interdisciplinary collaboration,” expand spaces for School of Design student use on campus, increase financial resources at the school, and find faculty from a diverse array of backgrounds committed to robust pedagogy.


“At present, total lack of communication cripples any effective, coordinated school-wide initiative,” Bollom wrote in 2007. “We maintain that this territory of ‘school-wide’ is the domain in which the dean must operate.”

The letter’s re-publication coincided with Garber’s second town hall Feb. 7. Lim presented Garber with a copy of the letter at that meeting and reiterated many of its points in person.

“It was important for us to put that letter out there because it was just interesting to us that a lot of the same issues are recurring and yet we’re 12 years down the road,” Lim said. “The fact that these issues haven’t been addressed successfully is something worthy of comment.”

Graduate School of Design spokesperson Travis Dagenais declined to comment on the dean search and student concerns.

The letter comes as the school continues to grapple with the release last spring of a “Shitty Architecture Men” spreadsheet alleging sexual assaults and racist acts by 18 School of Design affiliates. Dean Mohsen Mostafavi was among those accused in the spreadsheet. The school, facing student protests and a statement of support signed by 35 female faculty members, took steps to promote diversity and address misconduct in October, including creating a diversity deanship and requiring Title IX training for faculty.

Mostafavi announced his departure from the position in October. He will end his 11-year tenure at the end of the academic year as the school prepares for an expansion of its main building, Gund Hall.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow and Garber sent an email to students in early November asking them to share their input on the dean search and announcing the members of a faculty advisory committee. Garber also held the first town hall that month.

“Your observations and advice will help us not only identify promising potential candidates but also develop a rounded and textured view of the GSD and its possibilities for the future,” they wrote.

Bacow and Garber have received more than 100 emails through an address provided in the email, according to University spokesperson Jonathan Swain.

Zarina Ateig, a School of Design student who attended both meetings with Garber, said she felt the provost listened and was responsive to students’ concerns.

“I’m seeing a lot of traction between administration and the students, and I know for a fact that the things that we spoke about at the first meeting, for example, were addressed by our second meeting, or at least were acknowledged,” Ateig said. “It did not fall on deaf ears for sure.”

Lim said she thought it was unclear whether Bacow, Garber, and the 12-member dean search committee had fully considered student input because of the ambiguity of the process.

“This whole process has been very opaque,” she said. “It’s Harvard’s policy to not give up any of that information so we don’t know whether it’s had an impact or not.”

As with all recent dean searches across the University, Harvard has not released a list of any candidates being considered for the role.

Swain wrote in an emailed statement that the dean search was continuing to make good progress and said Bacow and Garber have worked to hear student voices.

“The President and Provost have taken multiple steps to receive input and considerations that inform the search, including from students,” he wrote.