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‘Long Overdue’: Leverett Affiliates Say Former Faculty Deans’ Early Departure is Years in the Making

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Elizabeth C. “Liz” Hoveland ’22 brought concerns about former Leverett Faculty Deans Brian D. Farrell and Irina P. Ferreras to Harvard administrators four times between June 2020 and June 2021.

During the meetings, administrators from the Dean of Students Office advised Hoveland to wait to share her feedback with a review committee established to evaluate the couple — standard practice for faculty deans in their fourth year of a five-year appointment to determine if they should be renewed for another term.

The review committee spent months meeting with affiliates like Hoveland to understand the house environment. Though the committee’s findings were not publicly released, a few months later, Farrell and Ferreras abruptly announced they would step down at the end of June — a year before the scheduled end of their term.

The role of faculty dean, known as “house master” before 2016, is unique to Harvard College. Each pair of faculty deans oversees one of the school’s 12 upperclassman houses. The job involves administrative tasks — including hiring tutors and staff, dispensing a budget, and approving housewide events — but a significant part of the role is setting the house’s culture and traditions.

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Farrell and Ferreras took over Leverett in fall 2018. A couple months after their arrival, the pair told The Crimson they were keeping up the house’s “strong traditions” and “actively building” Leverett’s Senior Common Room, a network of advisors and other affiliates who have access to the house and sometimes mentor students.

But a year later, many residents complained that some of the house’s most beloved traditions had disappeared and the SCR lay dormant. Discontent brewed on house email lists, where students bemoaned closed common spaces and shelved house traditions. That spring, students in Leverett circulated copies of a political cartoon depicting the faculty deans as the Standard Oil octopus.

In 2019, just 27 percent of graduating Leverett residents said they trusted Farrell and Ferreras in a Crimson survey — the lowest of any house. Their trust rating was 13 percentage points below the second-lowest rated faculty deans, whose contract in Winthrop House was not renewed by the College that year due to concerns about the house culture.

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In interviews conducted with 48 current and former Leverett residents, tutors, and staff over the past six months, many said the house’s culture suffered after Farrell and Ferreras arrived. Thirteen Leverett affiliates said the faculty deans fostered a toxic atmosphere in the house, marked by mismanagement and distrust.

Though many students and staff shared positive experiences, others in the house said traditions and good will withered under Farrell and Ferreras as senior staff turned over at a high rate. Some sources spoke on the condition of anonymity due to concerns about their job security at Harvard or fear of retaliation from Farrell and Ferreras.

In a May statement to The Crimson before they announced their departure, Farrell and Ferreras said the criticisms are not representative of the house culture they fostered, instead describing a “vibrant, happy, friendly, welcoming atmosphere” different from the one they inherited.

“We have done everything we can to dismantle what was a toxic, topdown and paternalistic work environment upon our arrival that was bad for the community,” they wrote.

They added that several of the criticisms were levied by those who have “privately and publicly harassed” them and are “accompanied with lightly-veiled intersectional sexism and racism” toward Ferreras, who is Latinx. The pair wrote they previously “heard and refuted” many of the allegations, which they claim originated from a “very small group of people.”

Still, a number of current and former staff and residents allege that the pattern of mismanagement Farrell and Ferreras introduced was widespread.

“When I met with the [review] committee, and I told them my issues, I cried,” Hoveland said. “And they said, ‘We believe you. Your complaints echo what we’ve been hearing in all of our interviews.’ That was the moment that I was like, ‘I’m not alone in this.’”

‘Their Way or the Highway’

Farrell and Ferreras entered Leverett as successors to Howard M. Georgi ’68 and Ann B. Georgi, who announced their resignation after 20 years in 2018.

Nicholas J. Durham ’20 described the Georgis as “really approachable and warm” and recalled eating Leverett’s homemade monkey bread during their weekly open house events.

The Georgis left “pretty big shoes to fill,” said former Leverett resident Philippe Noel ’20.

Under Farrell and Ferreras, some beloved Leverett traditions — including a faculty dean open house serving monkey bread, a weekly “Physics Night” to work on homework in the dining hall, and a frequent social called Not Just Sherry Hour — did not survive.

In the May statement, the pair wrote that monkey bread was discontinued due to a student’s allergies and they modified Not Just Sherry Hour into Social Hour, which they described as “very successful.” Physics Night, Farrell and Ferreras wrote, drew complaints for rendering the house’s dining hall “largely unavailable.” After the two rescheduled the event, the Physics Night professor moved it to a different house which resulted in the end of the tradition, they claimed.

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“It was really their way or the highway. They were not receptive to student feedback,” said former House Committee chair Benjamin I. Sorkin ’20. “It was very much their vision for the house rather than what the house had been like before.”

Five students and staff said Farrell and Ferreras often made decisions without input from students or staff.

During their second year, students noticed the house’s Senior Common Room, private dining room, art room, and kitchen were locked. Access to the Junior Common Room became restricted to Leverett students only, and its piano was locked shut.

Following a 27-message housewide email chain criticizing these changes to Leverett in 2019, a group of students documented their grievances in a five-page Google Doc, deploring the closure of common spaces and a lack of regular house events.

“To this day, I’ve never seen the inside of the private dining room nor the Senior Common Room,” Garrett M. Rolph ’22 said in a March interview.

In their statement to The Crimson, the faculty deans said tutors can book Leverett’s private dining room and SCR for meetings, including those attended by students. The art room and student kitchen can be reserved by students who complete a training, they wrote.

Despite some student complaints, some Leverett residents reported positive experiences with the faculty deans.

“The deans are great,” Jacob P. Winter ’24 said. “They feel personable. I can approach them and talk to them like I would a teacher.”

“They’re extremely supportive and they create a very warm environment,” Abigail R. White ’24 said.

Still, other house residents told a different story, alleging that Ferreras was hostile to students in Leverett common spaces.

Suriya Kandaswamy ’20 recalled an incident during which Ferreras began “screaming” at students in Leverett’s art room, threatening to revoke access to the space after students had not cleaned up.

“We’re not children,” Kandaswamy said. “It’s one thing to take away our access if we’re not following the rules but to come and scream at everyone in front of everyone — it’s a little bit demeaning.”

A former resident tutor said Ferreras on occasion raised her voice to students, particularly around the dining hall.

“The students I talked to were just so hurt and sometimes would come up to us in tears,” the tutor said. “It was a constant battle where she would just chase people and scream at them to put away all their dirty dishes.”

Two students said they witnessed a specific instance in which Ferreras loudly rebuked a student in the dining hall.

The former faculty deans denied the allegations, writing that Ferreras has “never yelled at any community member.”

“It is unconscionable to think that she would yell at a student in the Dining Hall, or in the art room, or at any location or occasion, and it would be surprising, especially given the level of scrutiny we have been under, that this would have happened and remained unaddressed in the moment it happened,” the pair wrote.

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At Leverett’s virtual thesis showcase in 2021, Farrell misgendered students despite repeated verbal and written attempts by attendees to correct him, according to four students and staff who attended the event.

“There’s definitely a lack of respect in the house — a lack of respect about referring to people as they want to be referred to,” said Alyx Britton ’21, who attended the event.

In their May statement to The Crimson, the faculty deans said they “deeply regret this incident” and are “sincerely sorry for this mistake.”

“We discussed this incident after the fact and how to make sure that all student’s pronouns are known and respected, and [Farrell] apologized at that time to the students and to the tutors who managed the event,” they wrote.

‘The Great Exodus’

Two years into his time as a resident tutor in Leverett, John L. Pulice III ’15 said he suffered a breakdown due to what he described as the faculty deans’ “constant pattern of micromanagement, undercutting, and unprofessional behavior.”

Pulice, who began at Leverett in 2018, said he was immediately given a “massive” number of responsibilities on top of advising residents, including handling the House’s website, mailing lists, and room reservations.

In early 2021, Pulice triggered a College inquiry into the faculty deans, according to an email exchange with Dean of Administration and Finance Sheila C. Thimba. In a 19-page statement submitted to administrators, Pulice said he was forced to shoulder the blame for decisions made by the faculty deans and burdened with more work than other tutors.

“It is impossible to succeed in this house,” Pulice wrote. “Being a tutor in Leverett House is an act of constant denigration, capitulation, and coddling of leadership that are completely unfit and unqualified to hold this position.”

His concerns weren’t anomalous: six other current and former staff members said their mental health deteriorated under the leadership of Farrell and Ferreras. Eleven students and staff said the faculty deans micromanaged them.

In their statement to The Crimson, Ferreras and Farrell described a “strong working relationship” with the house tutors, citing their creation of “tutor committees” to distribute work equitably and provide tutors agency.

Over the pair’s tenure, staff meetings occasionally devolved into shouting matches, according to six current and former staff members. Farrell and Ferreras denied the allegations.

“We do not yell at each other or anyone else but we do sometimes differ in opinions as individuals, as is normal,” they wrote. “Characterizing someone with a strong accent as speaking too loudly or as unintelligent is a familiar racist trope.”

Pulice and one other staff member described feeling uncomfortable during a 2020 tutor social at which Ferreras allegedly questioned attendees about their ethnic backgrounds.

“A mandatory end of semester virtual tutor social started with asking tutors how exactly they’re Jewish, and finished with grilling each person about their ethnic background and 23andMe results,” Pulice wrote in his 2021 report.

In their statement, Ferreras and Farrell dismissed the incident as an “invented story,” pointing to racial and gender-based discrimination Ferreras has experienced.

“For us, it is hard to believe and painful to hear a narrative of this nature,” they wrote. “Irina has suffered racial and gender-based bias since the beginning of our tenure.”

Six current staff members described in interviews positive experiences with Farrell and Ferreras.

Building manager Mohamed Zaker said he has not “had an issue” with the faculty deans, citing strong communication and support from the pair.

Robert Roessler, a resident tutor who started in 2019, said he has been “extremely supported” by the faculty deans, who have gone “above and beyond” to help him create a game room and secure new jerseys for intramurals.

“They treat both students and tutors, if you let them, really like family,” Roessler said.

Margaret C. “Maggie” Nowak, a resident tutor since 2019, wrote she “cultivated a very strong relationship” with the faculty deans but acknowledged “tension does happen” within Leverett’s circles.

Leverett had unusually high staff turnover among top administrative positions under Farrell and Ferreras. The house had three resident deans, two building managers, and two house administrators over Farrell and Ferreras’ four-year tenure.

In 2019, Resident Dean Bilal A. Malik announced his mid-year departure from Leverett, thanking only the Georgis in his farewell message. An interim resident dean served from 2019 to 2020, and the succeeding resident dean, Katie Daily, departed this June after just two years in the role. Both Malik and Daily cited family reasons for their departure in announcements to house affiliates.

Only Cabot House had a similar level of resident dean turnover over the four-year period.

Pulice departed Leverett in summer 2021 but stayed at Harvard as a resident tutor in Adams House.

That same year, both Leverett’s house administrator and longtime building manager also departed. Like Pulice — and unlike most departing staff — they stayed at Harvard through lateral transfers to other houses. According to existing data, aside from Leverett, just three resident tutors and one building manager have transferred laterally since fall 2018.

“We cannot comment on staff transfers and do not know how usual or unusual this is,” the faculty deans wrote in May. “We do not know the particulars of these transfers and understood that at least one was due to another’s House need for experience.”

Hoveland described Leverett’s staff turnover as “the great exodus.”

Five former staff members interviewed by The Crimson said they left the house in part to escape the “toxic” work environment. Two others said they were fired.

One former resident tutor said they left because of the faculty deans, despite enjoying interacting with and advising Leverett residents.

Leverett’s annual resident tutor turnover was lower than that of other houses, aside from its above-average turnover in the couple’s first year.

Early into the faculty deans’ tenure, Leverett saw rapid staff turnover in its Senior Common Room network, which includes both non-resident tutors and staff and alumni affiliated with the house.

John Trumpbour, who serves as a non-resident tutor and has been affiliated with Leverett since the mid-1980s, said many members of the SCR were let go under the current faculty deans’ reign, though he was not.

Eleven of Leverett’s 42 non-resident tutors in the 2018-2019 school year were still Leverett affiliates during 2021-2022, per data from the house’s website. The network shrunk to 31 members over this period.

In their statement to The Crimson, Farrell and Ferreras claimed they wrote to all existing affiliates to confirm their desire to continue.

But Joshua A. Reyes ’05-’06, a former non-resident tutor in Leverett, said he and others were unexpectedly fired by the faculty deans in January 2019 in what he deemed the “great SCR purge.”

“We are writing to confirm our decision to terminate your status as a Non-Resident Tutor at Leverett House, effective immediately. We know this comes as a disappointment,” the email from Farrell and Ferreras read, according to a copy provided to The Crimson. “After an analysis of the roles that NRTs are needed to fill at this time, we have reviewed all NRTs and have had to let many go.”

Farrell and Ferreras wrote in a follow-up statement to The Crimson that they convey hiring decisions based on the guidance of tutor committees.

“These tutor recommendation-based decisions can also include nonrenewal of non-resident tutors,” they wrote. “This is not out of the ordinary. Turnover is in the nature of these roles.”

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Though some former faculty deans remain house affiliates, the Georgis belong to Lowell House’s SCR rather than Leverett’s. Farrell and Ferreras said they invited the Georgis to the SCR in October 2018, but Howard Georgi “actively undermined [them] with a group of students and staff.”

The Georgis wrote in a statement that they tried to assist Farrell and Ferreras during the transition and had “hoped and assumed that they would work hard to make Leverett a home for all Leverett students.”

“Alas, subsequent events have shown this not to be the case,” the Georgis wrote. “While we were anguished for our many friends in the Leverett student body, SCR and staff, we did not make our concerns public out of respect for Harvard’s wonderful House system.”

“We hope that the system will emerge stronger from this experience,” they added.

‘A Personal Vendetta’

Despite mounting tension in the house, few staff and students raised their concerns directly to the faculty deans.

Three current and former staff members said Ferreras and Farrell did not take kindly to feedback, and eight current and former affiliates said they feared retaliation from the pair.

Kandaswamy said she believes she faced retaliation when she condemned an email from the faculty deans regarding the George Floyd protests in summer 2020. The faculty deans’ email, sent on a housewide email list, called riots “socially destructive and self-defeating.”

Kandaswamy replied all to the email — a privilege she had due to her former position as House Committee intramurals representative — to criticize their statement.

“Perhaps riots are a big issue, but your job as faculty deans is first and foremost to stand by your students and ensure that not a single one feels marginalized, and that they can all trust in Leverett House as a place to speak and be heard,” Kandaswamy wrote in the email.

Following Kandaswamy’s email, the faculty deans told Pulice to remove her mailing privileges, which he had already done in anticipation of their request. Kandaswamy’s removal nearly prevented her from recruiting a new intramurals representative via email — a move she called “petty” and “ridiculous.”

Pulice, who oversaw the mailing list, documented the incident in an email to Associate Dean of Students Lauren E. Brandt ’01, writing that he was concerned about “a personal vendetta” that the faculty deans held “against a student who dared disagree with them.” He worried that her removal would result in a loss of “institutional memory” for the intramurals program. Kandaswamy was able to find a new representative after Pulice ultimately approved her email, which the faculty deans reprimanded him for.

In their statement, the faculty deans wrote that it was an “administrative oversight” that alums had not yet been taken off the email list post-graduation and denied foul play.

“Anyone who could possibly think we are capable of retaliation does not know us,” the faculty deans wrote in their May statement. “We are sorry the alum perceived this as retaliation, but that is not factual.”

Reyes, the terminated non-resident tutor, had previously emailed the faculty deans asking them to denounce hateful drawings found in Leverett. Reyes said he was later removed from the email list and switched from the pre-business advising committee to the pre-medical committee.

“They told me that I had not advised enough pre-med students,” said Reyes, who has no medical background. “I said, ‘I don’t understand why I would be doing that. I’m not a medical doctor and have never been on the pre-med committee.’”

Reyes said he believes the faculty deans acted out of retaliation due to his earlier emails.

The faculty deans wrote that there is “zero tolerance” for offensive graffiti in the house and emphasized that NRT hiring is handled by resident tutor committees.

“We would be surprised if a non-resident tutor had been moved between pre-career and pre-med, as they don’t tend to have overlap,” they wrote in a follow-up statement.

‘Wait and See’

Pulice said he met with College administrators nine times to discuss the Leverett faculty deans between August 2020 and September 2021.

Both Hoveland, who served as House Committee chair in 2020, and Sorkin, who was chair in 2018, said they raised concerns about the faculty deans to Brandt and Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair.

Sorkin said while administrators “lent a sympathetic ear” and were “on the side of students,” they were ultimately unable to effect actual change.

“Folks are supportive but have a really kind of ‘throw their hands up’ attitude about it because other than when their five-year review hits, no one is kicking out faculty deans, unless it was really, really crazy egregious,” Sorkin said.

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Eight students and staff members who brought complaints to administrators said they found the response largely inadequate.

Following the inquiry catalyzed by Pulice, Thimba told Pulice that Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana had read the report and administrators had provided the faculty deans with “clear and specific feedback.”

But months later, Pulice emailed Thimba that “the results of any intervention lasted less than four weeks” and the house environment had only worsened.

“The Harvard administration’s actions have made clear that the situation will not change,” Pulice wrote. “I am working to explore other options since I simply cannot continue to be in this abusive and hostile environment.”

College spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo declined to comment on criticisms of the administration’s response, explaining that the College is unable to comment on personnel matters.

In addition to at least two inquiries prompted by individual complaints, formal reviews of the Leverett faculty deans began late last fall, including a “Faculty Dean Leadership Assessment” survey led by Rachael L. Ellison, a consultant from Harvard’s Center for Workplace Development.

The survey asked respondents to rank the overall effectiveness of the faculty deans on “focusing on the right priorities” and “resolving conflict and complex situations.” It also asked whether the deans furthered belonging and traditions and fostered a “supportive community.”

At the same time, Leverett’s official review committee — chaired by former Adams Faculty Dean John G. “Sean” Palfrey ’67 and consisting of seven other administrators — began soliciting information about the faculty deans and house environment.

Ellison and Palfrey declined to comment on the findings of their assessments of Leverett.

In a March 29 email to house tutors that was obtained by The Crimson, Farrell and Ferreras speculated that the newspaper was investigating them in anticipation of their five-year tenure review. The pair urged tutors to respond to Crimson inquiries and communicate an “accurate” depiction of the house, thanking staff for their “time and support.”

Two months later, Farrell and Ferreras’ sudden resignation came as a surprise to some. It remains unclear why the faculty deans left prematurely. In their announcement to Leverett affiliates, the pair wrote that it was “with deepest sadness” that they were departing.

“We believe this decision is the best for us and our family as we enter a new chapter of our lives,” Farrell and Ferreras wrote.

Both Palumbo and the former faculty deans declined to comment further on the reasons behind the early departure.

Still, some continue to call for greater accountability for one of Harvard’s least understood positions. Decisions on faculty deans are the responsibility of Khurana, the dean of the College.

Britton lamented the lack of “direct oversight” in Harvard’s house system and said it creates “room for abuse.”

“There should be a way to hold people in high positions of power accountable,” Hoveland said. “Other than just reporting it and the ‘wait and see’ method.”

A Blank Slate

Around 80 percent of the Leverett Class of 2022 reported some level of satisfaction with their living conditions, the second lowest satisfaction rate of all houses. In 2021, just 66 percent of Leverett’s seniors were satisfied, the lowest of any house.

But even before the arrival of Farrell and Ferreras, Leverett consistently received low scores in house satisfaction surveys. Some attribute this to its size and layout: disjointed buildings comprising among the largest undergraduate population of Harvard’s houses.

In their statement to The Crimson, Farrell and Ferreras noted that their position came with the “stress of optimizing limited resources.”

Reyes said he has been in conversation with the current House Committee chairs on expanding house life with Leverett traditions he experienced as an undergraduate and as a former House Committee chair.

“Leverett culture has really withered under the [former faculty deans],” he said. “It is important to restore the institutional memory.”

With the turnover of all of Leverett’s deans this year, some are hopeful that a blank slate can lead Leverett in a new direction.

Harvard Medical School professors Eileen E. Reynolds ’86 ​​and Daniel G. Deschler currently serve as Leverett’s interim faculty deans, while former resident tutor John F. Nowak has taken over as interim resident dean.

Sorkin, who served on Leverett’s previous faculty dean selection committee, said he hopes student input is more strongly considered in the search for the house’s next leaders.

“I really just hope that this time around, people will listen to student voice and bring on people who understand that Leverett is not in a good place — or is in a place where there’s a lot of room for growth and improvement,” he said.

For others, Ferreras and Farrell’s departure is “long overdue.”

“I left my position in Leverett House for one reason and one reason only—the unrelentingly toxic work environment created by Brian Farrell and Irina Ferreras,” Pulice wrote in a June email. “My thoughts are with all the students and staff for whom this decision came far too late.”

—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at vivi.lu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @vivielu_.

—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at leah.teichholtz@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.

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