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A New Chapter

Dean Bridget Long, announcing plans to step down after this academic year, reflects on an eventful tenure, the challenges of change, the importance of education — and the necessity of hope
Bridget Long

Dean Bridget Long announced today that she is stepping down from the deanship at the end of the current academic year. When she concludes her six-year term as dean — a tenure that followed her four-year term as academic dean — she will have overseen a period of extraordinary growth and change for HGSE. We asked Long to talk about the highlights of her deanship, the accomplishments she’s most proud of, and what is next for her and the school.  

As you look back over the six years of your tenure as dean, are there specific points of pride?  

I have been honored to serve as HGSE’s leader and proud of many things that, of course, could not have been done without the hard work of so many people across HGSE. I am extremely proud of what we’ve done together — this is such a talented and dedicated community of people who have worked together to do incredible things. I will look back with pride about the vision, innovation, and success of our redesigned residential master’s programs and the introduction of Foundations courses. I will remember the excitement we felt as we attracted students from around the world for our remote year and then launched HGSE’s first online master’s degree program to continue this important work. During my time as dean, I have also worked hard to recognize the talent and accomplishments of our faculty and staff and have stewarded numerous successful tenure cases, welcomed new colleagues, and advocated for promotions and new opportunities around the school.  

Each year, I’ve loved welcoming the new cohort of students and telling them that “you belong” — there was always a noticeable sigh of relief and scattered smiles when I would say that. I will remember the delight of Ed.L.D. and AOCC convenings, the doctoral robings of Ph.D. candidates, and the joys of Commencement and meeting proud parents and partners.  

Finally, I am especially proud of the progress we’ve made in raising funds for financial aid. We have incredible people and programs, and we must do all we can to ensure students and working educators can come here regardless of their ability to pay. Creating opportunities for the next generation is definitely one of my proudest accomplishments.

What’s been most memorable to you? 

There’s such a range of incredible memories I will take with me. I laugh when I recall talking with Grover and Big Bird during the celebration of Sesame Street’s 50th anniversary. I vividly remember the early days of COVID when we started to realize that the university would close, and our team bonded together to figure out how to provide the supports everyone needed. I loved the opportunity to banter with Ruth Simmons at Commencement last year and to meet some of the leading voices in the field of education as part of our Askwith Education Forums. But what I will cherish the most as I reflect upon my time as dean are the smaller moments, engaging with individuals — staff members I’ve known for decades, students who came to my office hours, alumni who took my courses years ago. As a leader, you aim to do big things, but the most satisfying moments tend to be connecting with others to offer your help or encouragement or just to make them feel seen.

Talk about why you made this decision now.  

First of all, I want to acknowledge that I know this is a challenging time for the university. We’ve been through a tumultuous time of uncertainty, change, and loss, with the resignation of President Gay, with whom I am proud to have worked closely over the last five and a half years. I know that all of this change can feel destabilizing.  

It’s important to know that my decision was made separately, and well before, the change in Harvard’s presidency. I made this decision now because I’m so proud of the growth that I’ve been able to guide during my tenure as dean. We have exceeded my greatest wishes by accomplishing our goals and even adding new innovations and initiatives along the way. During the past year, I began to see how our amazing progress is really enabling us to finish an important chapter in our history — from the completion of the master’s redesign, the revitalization of our external engagement and use of our convening power, and numerous other innovations and accomplishments. It’s time for HGSE to start considering what’s next.  

On a more personal level, 10 years in the dean’s office feels like a considerable milestone — one that included COVID, which I’d say deserves a bit of extra credit. It’s challenging to be in roles like these, especially trying to shepherd us through change and crisis — and even more change. Somehow, I’ve done this all while balancing being a mother, wife, friend, and for the last two years, I’ve been in charge of taking care of my parents, grappling with the aftereffects of my father’s stroke and my mother’s advancing Alzheimer’s. We all carry not only professional but also important and significant personal responsibilities, and — as much as I’ve loved the challenges and rewards of leadership — it’s time for me to devote more attention to my family and my own well-being. I also look forward to spending more time with friends, who have been more than gracious when I’ve often had to decline invitations due to work. 

What’s next for you — what interests you going forward? 

I plan to take a sabbatical next year and then return to my role as a faculty member. This is such a critical time for education, and I remain committed to the mission of increasing opportunities and improving outcomes for learners. The challenges facing higher education, which have reached a fever pitch in recent months, motivate me to return to my work as a scholar focused on college access and success. I now have the additional insights of being a higher education leader and working with leaders across the field, just as major questions about affordability, mission, and governance abound. I am also troubled by the persistent negative effects of the pandemic on students everywhere. I look forward to being a “private citizen” again to work directly on these issues and to use my voice as an individual, rather than representing an institution. I do plan to carry forward a theme that has been at the forefront of my deanship: hope. There is much we can do to improve education and support learners, and some of my effort will go to highlighting important evidence and the incredible work of talented educators. I also anticipate having more time to contribute to the nonprofits and education initiatives I am a part of.

What should the community expect for the spring term? 

Over the next several months, I hope to spend time connecting with community members as we reflect on what we’ve accomplished together and what’s possible for the future. My care and concern for this community will guide me this spring. I look forward to having more time to see colleagues and support students — and my advisees know I am a ready resource for them. 

I also encourage the community to begin looking ahead — building on our mission and great talents to determine what the next chapter holds for HGSE. I’ve already started to lay the groundwork for important conversations this community will need to have about its future. For example, faculty meetings last fall considered questions about how we want to work together, the students we aim to serve, and how the structural changes to our degree programs have affected our resource model. All in all, my hope is that people will share their ideas and dream big about the future for HGSE. 

Learn more from the Harvard Gazette's coverage of Dean Long's announcement.


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