As announced over spring break, Julie Lythcott-Haims ’89, associate vice provost for undergraduate education and dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising, will step down from her role at Stanford at the end of spring quarter to pursue a graduate degree in writing. Lythcott-Haims, known to many as “Dean Julie,” has had a tremendous impact at Stanford since joining the administration in 1998, and we at the Editorial Board would like to reflect on her time at Stanford.
Dean Julie first came to the University as an undergraduate majoring in American Studies. She lived in Branner as a freshman, and she was also an RA there during her junior and senior years. After graduating in 1989, she attended Harvard Law School and briefly worked in corporate law before returning to Stanford in 1998 as the associate dean of student affairs in the Law School. Two years later she became a member of President Hennessy’s senior staff, and in 2002 she became Stanford’s first dean of freshman.
When the Freshman Dean’s Office merged with Undergraduate Advising and Research (UAR) in 2009, Dean Julie became the head of the undergraduate advising system at Stanford. So although among students she is perhaps most known for her class role-calls at campus events, her inspiring school-spirit at football games or repping Stanford on her Twitter account, Dean Julie has had a significant impact on broadening the role of pre-major advising and expanding undergraduate access to resources to conduct their own research. One significant change is that undeclared students are now required to meet with their pre-major advisor once per quarter before enrolling in classes. At a minimum, this provides a needed opportunity for underclassmen to reflect on what they have done, what they want to do and where they are headed.
In addition, Dean Julie has spearheaded an 18-month effort to plan the Reflection Seminars, currently a pilot program that aims to provide even more introspection for freshmen. We applaud both directives, as many freshmen choose to narrow their academic experiences at a time when the faculty and administration want them to explore the most. We hope that Dean Julie’s successor can maintain enthusiasm for these initiatives while critically examining other areas of Stanford life for underclassmen.
With that in mind, Dean Julie’s energy and school-spirit may never be matched. While the University searches for her replacement, we believe that the search team should prioritize candidates who are undergraduate alumni of the university. Not only should the candidate bleed Cardinal red, but he or she should be someone who, by the nature of having attended Stanford, has an instant connection with each incoming class of freshmen.
Dean Julie was able to transcend the role of an administrator – she was one of us. When referring in an interview to the Stanford band playing at Admit Weekend, she said: “you’re not in Cambridge, you’re not in New Haven, you’re not in Princeton, you’re in Palo Alto, and we do things differently here.” Dean Julie knew what made Stanford unique, and her successor should as well.
It is safe to say that Dean Julie positively impacted thousands of students, and her presence on campus will be sorely missed. Despite her considerable administrative duties, she also managed to personally connect with many individual students, writing words of encouragement on their Facebook walls, reading graduate school personal statements and meeting personally with disillusioned students. One of our fondest memories was the 2009 Big Game, when Stanford was staging a comeback late in the fourth quarter. Dean Julie, in the first row of the Red Zone, turned around and started shouting “Do you believe?” This was followed by hundreds of students yelling back “We believe!” Although Stanford eventually lost the game, Dean Julie’s fighting spirit left a profound impression. We are confident that she will take this enthusiasm to her writing endeavors, and we can’t wait to see what she will accomplish.