New Education Dean To Raise School Profile

The new dean of one of Harvard’s most overlooked graduate school has big plans for the future of the Graduate School of Education (GSE).

University President Lawrence H. Summers lured Ellen Condliffe Lagemann to the post this month with promises of unprecedented funding and support—and while neither will elaborate on what exactly those promises will amount to in future years, the issues facing the school are clear.

Despite a recent capital campaign that boosted the number of faculty, GSE needs money and space, and administrators say that the future of the school depends on its ability to raise its profile and develop joint programs with other parts of Harvard.

Lagemann, the first dean to be appointed by Summers and Harvard’s third female dean, is no stranger to the field of education.

“She brings a breadth of passion for education and educational research,” says Judith D. Singer, who has served as co-acting dean of GSE for the past year.


A longtime professor at New York University and Columbia’s Teachers’ College, Lagemann comes to GSE from the Spencer Foundation, the nation’s largest educational research foundation.

“The unquestioned respect by which she is held by colleagues in the field of education and her capacity to articulate how GSE should be different from other schools of education will make GSE a leader among schools,” says Shattuck Professor of Education Catherine E. Snow, who served on the committee that advised Summers on the dean search.

While the two GSE deans preceding Lagemann were appointed from within, Lagemann’s colleagues are quick to point out the perks of her coming from outside of the University.

“It’s good to have someone say, ‘why do you do things this way?’” Singer says. “At Harvard, sometimes the answer is ‘well it’s always been done this way.’ She brings a new perspective.”

Lagemann, for her part, says that she won’t take anything for granted as she spends her first weeks and months learning about GSE and meeting with students, faculty and administrators.

Although her job does not officially start until July 15, Lagemann is scheduled to visit the campus next week and again in mid-June. The biggest issues facing GSE, though, are clear.

Money Matters

Lagemann’s simplistic description of the difference between her current and future jobs sum up perhaps the biggest challenge that lies ahead of her.

“At the Spencer Foundation, I give away money,” she says. “At Harvard, I’m going to need to raise money.”

Lagemann and GSE’s two acting deans—Singer and John B. Willett—all stress the need for fundraising at a school where graduates tend to earn less than graduates from other professional schools like the Medical, Law or Business Schools.