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HGSE Remembers Brendan Randall

By Jill Anderson on October 12, 2017 11:00 AM
The Harvard Graduate School of Education community will come together on Friday, October 13, to celebrate the life of Brendan Randall, 51, an advanced doctoral student who died on July 9 following an accident in Philadelphia.

Brendan Randall“Brendan was greatly admired and respected by his colleagues and many friends at HGSE and across the university, and will be deeply missed by all those whose lives he touched,” said Dean James Ryan.

Russell, Ed.M.’07, a former lawyer and teacher, studied religion, law, and education as a doctoral student. Those who knew him remember Randall as a passionate, dedicated learner with endless energy. He held a number of positions including as a senior consultant focused on campus engagement at Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago, a senior researcher for the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, and a teaching fellow while continuing work on his dissertation.

Randall’s dissertation, "Religious Belief, Free Expression, and ‘Lightning Rod’ Issues: Agonistic Pluralism and Civic Education in a Religiously Diverse Democracy," examined both theoretical and practical challenges in creating respectful school environments in a pluralist society. Among his many interests was how schools can better prepare students to live in a religiously diverse democratic society.

“Brendan was an extraordinary educator and scholar who 'walked his talk' in everything that he did. He was passionate about creating educational spaces in which people who held radically diverse viewpoints and beliefs could engage respectfully and meaningfully with one another,” said Professor Meira Levinson, who acted as Randall’s dissertation adviser.

“His work promises to have a significant influence on legal and moral theory, civic education, and also school policy and practice,” Levinson added.

“At the Pluralism Project, Brendan worked closely with our case-study initiative in developing and teaching the cases that involve students in the on-the-ground dilemmas of our time,” wrote Diana Eck, director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard. “He was an invaluable, inventive, and beloved teaching colleague in my case-studies course in general education at Harvard College, said by many of his students to be ‘the best teaching fellow I have had at Harvard.’”

Often calling himself a “recovering lawyer,” Randall got his law degree at the University of Minnesota Law School after earning a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. He also earned a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School.

Prior to coming to HGSE, he taught history, applied ethics, and comparative religion at the Emma Willard School, an independent, all-girls boarding school in Troy, New York.

According to Senior Lecturer Kitty Boles, Randall’s desire to become a better teacher initially led him to the Ed School where he stood out among students. “He was a bit older and was such a gentle soul,” she recalled. “He didn’t make big deal out of being a lawyer or that he had gone to Harvard College or even taught for a number of years. Everyone liked him because he was caring and would get to know people.”

After earning his Ed.M., Boles stayed in touch with Randall asking him to sit on the admissions committee for the Learning and Teaching Program, where she remembers how he read every application closely and knew more about the students than anyone.

“You could always count on him,” she said. “He did holy work. Everything he did improved the world and lives of young people.”

A memorial service is planned for this Friday, October 13 at 3 p.m. in the Eliot-Lyman Room. A reception will follow on the first floor of Gutman Library. All are welcome to attend.