The Jones Debacle*

In the Spring of 1972 Jones's "inept performance** leads
to big troubles at Harvard's GSAS 


This is a sad memoir of an old man reflecting on a set of events that profoundly influenced his life. In 1971 I was in many respects on "top of the world."  I was married to just the right woman and had three wonderful children.  I had a good and demanding job that I loved.  I was doing some interesting teaching and my research was generously supported by DARPA and the Air Force.  I thought I had good rapport with graduate students and had, at that time, supervised at least thirty Ph.D. theses.  My good friend Frederic Abernathy and I had done a good job in managing the graduate program in the, then, Division of Engineering and Applied Physics.  Above all, I thought I understood and was pretty good at academic administration and politics.

After the events described in this memoir, the bottom dropped out.  I found I really didn't understand academic politics and couldn't function on even a very basic level.  Through a very difficult year I had no support from any of my Harvard colleagues nor did my administrative superiors back me in any way.  I became a hated icon for graduate students to the point where I was hung in effigy at the time of the 1972 Commencement.  Particularly disturbing was the manor in which former graduate student friends and associates would shun me as we passed in the street.  In an effort to be somewhat objective I have tried to tell the story of my failure through articles from The Harvard Crimson and similar media which are linked below. What I can't record is the incessantly depressing stories about me every night on the 10 PM radio news program on my beloved WHRB.  As the story developed in
the Crimson and elsewhere I, of course, became deeply disturbed by the increasing use of two metaphors  - the Jones debacle* and Jones's inept performance**.  The view from outside Harvard was a bit more generous as an unsolicited letter from a fellow graduate dean bears out.  In fact, because of all the notoriety I did eventually receive several fairly attractive job offers from other institutions..

As, perhaps, a more measured treatment of the the whole affair I refer any possible reader to the introductory section of the GSAS Dean's Report for 1971-72.  In an attempt to objectivize what follows, I shall refer to myself in the third person.

The issue that generate all the trauma of 1972 - i.e., the Staff Tuition Scholarship (STS) - was basically a trivial one, but, as we learn from Henry Kissinger, academic troubles are particular bitter because they are so trivial.  Before I die I hope that I can exorcise these demons, but I doubt it.


In 1971 when Derek Curtis Bok ascended to the presidency of Harvard University he faced a host of formidable challenges. Among these challenges were looming problems in graduate education in general and at the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in particular.  Following the launch of Sputnik in 1957 there was a tremendous infusion of public (mainly Federal) and private foundation resources dedicated to the expansion and enhancement of graduate education. Teaching, research and scholarship in nearly every field grew and flourished.  For example, at Harvard the number of students in the GSAS more than doubled in the  period between 1955 and 1970.

However, by the late 1960s the picture was changing rapidly.  On the national scene, the Viet Nam era turmoil on college campuses was leading many to question the value of the country's investment in higher education. The expansion of graduate education also raised employment issues and the popular image of a "Ph.D. glut" became widespread.   At Harvard, the Committee on the Future of the Graduate School - better known as the Wolff Committee after its chairman Professor Robert Lee Wolff - had called for a severe reduction in the size of the GASA to better match the size of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. At the suggestion of Dean Harvey Brooks of the, then, Division of Engineering and Applied Physics. R. Victor Jones was asked to write a paper analyzing the problems facing graduate education at Harvard.  Brooks felt that Jones and his predecessor as Associate Dean of DEAP, Professor Frederic H. Abernathy, had done a particularly good job in managing graduate issues and resources in the DEAP.  Based, largely, on this paper Bok asked Jones to take over the GSAS and Jones was eager to do so in spite of highly prescient warnings from Harvey Brooks.  In his last communication with his new dean, President Bok sent Jones a formal charge which seems in retrospect quite naive.  In a Harvard Crimson interview about his new appointment, Jones anticipates troubles ahead by invoking the spiritual with the hope that "God have mercy on us all."

An insightful article in the Crimson did an excellent job spelling out the issues as Jones assumed the deanship.  To cope with these issues and to provide all the services for over 3000 graduate students, Jones found at the GSAS a minuscule, mainly, part-time administrative staff - perhaps a total of 8 or 9 FTEs in senior and support staff positions.   In spite of urgent requests, Jones's administrative superiors were reluctant to expand the GSAS staff.  It should be noted that as a result of the Jones debacle recounted here the GSAS staff eventually quadrupled.  Since graduate education has always been a department-centered activity Jones was eager to develop a support structure within the academic departments to deal with the many challenges ahead.  To that end on December 7, 1971 he convened a "Convocation" of the faculty members serving as departmental graduate representatives/supervisors to explain the looming issues and to solicit their support in carrying the sobering message to other faculty members and graduate students.  This was, in fact, probably Jones's greatest mistake or ineptitude.  Although the discussions at the Convocation were brisk and informative it was obvious that most of the representatives did not see it as their responsibility to communicate to their students and colleagues on the impending crisis and were uninterested in any of the minutia of student financial support.  What Jones knew, but did not fully appreciate nor draw upon was the critical role of, as they were called then, "departmental secretaries" in maintaining the well-being and morale of graduate students.  If he had not been so inept he would have had a series of Convocations with these departmental secretaries to gain their support and, thereby, develop an effective dialog with the graduate students.

The Kraus Plan and the STS Fiasco:

Jones's position on the distribution of financial aid had two district modes.  For departments that had outside resources and the means to administer financial aid - mainly science departments - the GSAS would allocate Harvard scholarship resources to the department in accord with the goals of the Wolff Committee.  For departments with few outside resources and little interest in managing financial aid - mainly departments in the humanities and some social sciences. However, the total allocation to  these department would again be fixed in accord with goals of the Wolff Committee.  This second modality fit with the practice in professional graduate schools and was much discussed in communications with other major graduate schools.  (Throughout Jones's tenure at GSAS he benefited tremendously from regular meetings with the "Seven Dwarfs" - i.e., the graduate deans from Brown, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, UC Berkeley and Yale.  One of the few bright spots in a very sad year was a treasured letter from one of the Dwarfs.)  To administer this more complex system of aid, Jones finally prevailed on his administrative superiors to hire Dr. Richard Kraus who had earned his Ph.D. in the Harvard Economics Department and had extensive experience in need-based undergraduate financial aid.  From that point on all of Jones's efforts were characterized and demonized by the vaguely teutonic appellation of Jones's "Kraus Plan."

To implement a more equitable and rational financial aid regime it was necessary to suspend a costly program called the Staff Tuition Scholarship - i.e., the STS. To quote the cautious phrasing from Jones's mea culpa document:

When the Staff Tuition Scholarship was established over ten years ago, it was perceived as a limited form of assistance for those Teaching Fellows who were experiencing financial difficulties,  In recent years, however, the program has grown rapidly and it became apparent that some departments were appointing Teaching Fellows not exclusively on the basis of teaching needs of the department but individual financial need had become a factor.

Although initially a laudable effort to improve the quality of teaching by Teaching Fellows, this nearly one million dollar program had become somewhat of a scam.  Some department administrator understood the implications of the STS and used it to pump disproportional fund allocations out of the GSAS - Jones knew how easy it was to scam the system and had done so himself when he was Associate Dean of the DEAP.  In suspending the STS, Jones requested that his administrative superiors "sweeten the pot" to make the impact more manageable, but he was not authorized to do so.  When the suspension was announced all hell broke lose.  The Harvard Crimson articles linked below tell the rest of story quite precisely.  However, there is an additional aspect of the story which may not be obvious from the articles.  At the time of the Jones debacle, a significant fraction of the graduate students had been undergraduates when the turmoil on college campuses was at its height.  As a result, many of these media sophisticated students understood the power of capturing media attention with rallies and staged events.  Jones was like a helpless babe in the woods.


After the events of the Spring of 1972 - some of which are well described in the linked Crimson articles - it was clear that Jones had lost all credibility with the graduate students.  While his administrative superiors had completely undermined his position, for reasons of public relations they were reluctant to let him resign.  However, late in the summer Jones forced the issue with a letter that said in part, " is essential that I get free of the obligations of the deanship as soon as possible...  From the view point of Harvard's interests it would be my judgment that it is the right time to make the break.  The functions and responsibilities of the GSAS Dean have to be given sharper focus.  The organization of the GSAS staff needs drastic and immediate attention. Accomplishing both of these objectives is bound to be inhibited by my incumbency."

Finally, it should be noted, that after some forty years the GSAS still uses a version of the financial aid system Kraus and Jones put in place in 1972.  


The story as told through articles in The Harvard Crimson and other media:

THC April 09, 1969Faculty Delays Vote On Wolff Proposals....
December 1, 1971Professor John Peterson Elder Resigns as Dean
THC September 22, 1971 New Dean Victor Jones: In Search of a Medici
November 01, 1971Professor in Action
THC  December 10, 1971GSAS Loses Federal Funds
THC  March 11, 1972GSAS Plans Shift In Money for Aid
THC  March 18, 1972Teaching Fellows Plan Protest Rally
THC March 20, 1972Editorial:  Support the Union
THC  March 22. 1972Grad Union Committee Rejects Jones's Response to Demands
THC  March 25, 1972  Graduate Student Union Demands Aid Guarantee
THC  April 28, 1972Faculty meeting_notice
THC  April 29, 1972Jones Explains Tuition Issues To Professors
THC  June 15, 1972Bread & Butter Battle at the Grad School
THC  September 18 or 20, 1972Jones Resigns as  Dean
[*] and [**]
THC  December 12, 1972
Union Bests Dunlop  - one of the articles that uses the twin metaphors of Jones debacle and Jones's inept performance 
THC  March 23, 1973
The Strike:_Post-Mortems - one of the articles that uses the metaphor Jones's inept performance 
THC  June 14, 1973Derek Bok Sets Up His New Dominoes
THC  September 01, 1973New Dean of Graduate School Will Be Third in Three Years

Links to other elements of the story:

Fall of 1971RVJ Memo to Dean Harvey Brooks on Problems in GSAS
October 15, 1971President Derek Bok's Charge to R. Victor Jones
December 7, 1971RVJ's remarks for a convocation of departmental graduate representatives/supervisors
April 11, 1972Jones's mea culpa letter to all graduate students and faculty
Summer of 19722Introduction to 1971-72 Dean's Report for GSAS
October 10, 1972A letter of praise from one of the Seven Dwarfs

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This page was prepared and is maintained by R. Victor Jones
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Last updated September 17, 2012