Campus & Community

Obituary: Archie C. Epps, former dean of students at Harvard College, at 66:

3 min read

Beloved mentor to generations served as link between students and administration for 30 years

Former Harvard College Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III, whose career at Harvard spanned four decades, died Aug. 21 of complications from surgery. He was 66.

As dean of students from 1971 to 1999, Epps served as an intermediary between Harvard’s student body and the administration. During his tenure, the Undergraduate Council was formed and student organizations grew by 300 percent. One of the first high-ranking black administrators at Harvard, Epps also played a fundamental part in the College’s race relations efforts. In 1992, he published the University’s first handbook on race relations.

Epps’ position often placed him at the center of controversy. During the occupation of Harvard’s University Hall administration building in 1969, student protesters carried Epps, in his trademark dapper suit and bow tie, out of the building. He mediated conflicts between student groups and between students and administrators, and worked to defuse racial tensions, balancing issues of free speech with his administrative duties to maintain order.

See also the Rev. Professor Peter J. Gomes’ eulogy

Born May 19, 1937, Epps was raised in Lake Charles, La. He graduated from Talladega College in Alabama and received a bachelor of theology degree from Harvard Divinity School and a certificate in educational management from the Harvard Business School and the Graduate School of Education. A scholar of Islam with a great interest in Malcolm X, Epps edited a book, “The Speeches of Malcolm X at Harvard” (Morrow, 1967) that was reissued with an expanded introduction by him in 1991.

Epps began his Harvard career as a teaching assistant at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies in 1961 and became assistant dean of Harvard College in 1964. He was assistant conductor of the Harvard Glee Club from 1963 to 1967, and a 10-year resident music tutor in Leverett House. Following his retirement as dean of students, Epps continued in a half-time appointment as senior associate dean for two years.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, Epps helped organize a series of conferences on economics that was funded by the government of Luxembourg. From those conferences, he co-edited (with Armand Clesse, president of the Harvard-Luxembourg Association) a book called “‘Present at the Creation’: The Fortieth Anniversary of the Marshall Plan” (Harper and Row, 1990).

Epps was a trustee of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Belmont Hill School in Belmont, The Winsor School in Boston, and The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge. He was an overseer at the Museum of Fine Arts and served on the Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct.

A long-time member of Christ Church, Cambridge, Epps was also a verger at the Memorial Church. A fellowship in his name funds a recently ordained seminarian to serve as chaplain to the undergraduate community from the Memorial Church.

Epps is survived by his wife, Valerie, a professor at Suffolk University Law School; by two sons, Josiah ’98 and Caleb ’03; and by his brothers, Martin, of Jackson, Miss., and Heibert George, of Houston.

At the request of the Epps family, donations in lieu of flowers may be made to the following organizations:

The Epps Fellowship at The Memorial Church (Harvard College, Cambridge, MA 02138); The Harvard Glee Club Foundation (P.O. Box 380913, Cambridge, MA 02138); Christ Church Capital Fund (Christ Church, Zero Garden St., Cambridge, MA 02138); Talladega College (Talladega, AL 55160); or Brigham and Women’s Hospital Renal Unit (75 Francis St., Boston, MA 02115).