L. Fred Jewett’s career at Harvard spanned 35 years, during which he served as dean of admissions as well as the College’s top administrator. He passed away on Nov. 27.

File photo by Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Former College Dean Jewett dies at 75

6 min read

‘Pillar of the College for more than a generation’

L. Fred Jewett ’57, former dean of Harvard College and a longtime University administrator, died on Sunday. He was 75.

Jewett’s career at Harvard spanned 35 years, during which he served as dean of admissions as well as the College’s top administrator. In that time, he implemented more inclusive admissions policies, played a key role in the integration of Harvard and Radcliffe, and introduced randomization to the process of assigning upper class students to the Houses.

“Fred Jewett was a pillar of the College for more than a generation,” said Harvard President Drew Faust. “He profoundly shaped the undergraduate experience and was dedicated to opening Harvard to the most talented students, regardless of background. I’m deeply saddened by his loss.”

Jewett arrived at Harvard College as a freshman in 1953. He received his A.B. in government magna cum laude in 1957, and, after a year of study in France, returned to Cambridge in 1958 to attend Harvard Business School, from which he received his M.B.A. in 1960. At this time, Jewett also served as one of the original freshman advisers, a role he would continue to play at the College for the next 40 years.

Much of Jewett’s career at Harvard was spent in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, where he was director of freshman scholarships (1967-1972) and then dean (1972-1984). It was in this latter role that Jewett made some of his most lasting contributions to undergraduate life. He oversaw the consolidation of the Harvard and Radcliffe admissions offices, encouraged the admission of minority students, and strengthened the College’s commitment to financial aid, to name only a few of his achievements.

“Fred’s vision and leadership did much to create today’s Harvard,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid to students in Harvard College. “He cared deeply about ensuring that Harvard be accessible to students from all ethnic and economic backgrounds. His definition of excellence spanned the full range of academic disciplines and human talents, including his deep love of music  — especially opera — and athletics. He became a mentor and a lifelong friend to countless undergraduates, enabling them to achieve goals they never dreamed possible. He had a profound effect on my life as well and set a standard for loyalty to Harvard that will never be matched.”

Jewett’s commitment to diversity continued throughout his tenure as dean of Harvard College (1985-1995), during which he presided over the controversial decision to randomize House assignments. Before 1996, freshmen selected their top three choices for housing, which were then sorted by computer. The result was that students often ended up spending the next three years at Harvard with people of similar backgrounds and perspectives. With randomization, Jewett ensured that undergraduates would be exposed to the diversity he had brought to Harvard at admissions.

“One of Fred’s first moves as dean was to say, ‘We’ve worked so hard at admissions to bring in students from every background. It’s a shame they don’t get more from the diversity,’” said Freshman Dean and former Associate Dean of the College for Housing Thomas A. Dingman ’67. “There was a lot of criticism from those who felt we were undermining an important element of the Harvard experience, but after the change, we found that Houses were still able to carry on their traditions — the Lowell House Opera, success in intramural sports, etc. … With a more diverse population, you could still have extraordinary programming.”

Friends and colleagues say that they will remember the man known to many as “Mr. Harvard” for his generosity, his decency, and his devotion to the College and its students. Former Harvard President Derek Bok, whose administration (1971-1991) coincided with Jewett’s tenure at the Office of Admissions and the Office of the Dean, called him a “remarkably wise counselor.”

“Fred Jewett was one in a long line of immensely distinguished deans of admission for Harvard College, and one of the civil servants who do much more than most people realize to make the University function well,” said Bok. “He had impressive knowledge of Harvard and how it functions. I relied on his advice in dealing with a whole series of problems that we faced over the 20 years of my administration. We owe him an immense debt for all that he contributed to Harvard.”

John P. Reardon, executive director of the Harvard Alumni Association and associate vice president for University relations, said that Jewett was a brilliant man who never forgot his humble beginnings and had a remarkable ability to connect with students.

“He was a public school kid from Taunton, Mass., who came to the College and then went on to HBS, where he was a Baker Scholar,” Reardon said. “When he went to the Freshman Dean’s Office and Admissions, they saw quickly how good he was and what a difference he could make. He loved kids. His reputation was such that he had lines of students that just wanted to talk about courses with him. He was a wonderful man and a special friend.”

Harvard College Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds said that she hopes that the occasion of her predecessor’s passing will inspire faculty, staff, and students to reflect on a legacy that still shapes the College community today.

“Fred Jewett’s work made possible not only the diversity of today’s student body, but also the diversity of leadership in the College and throughout the University,” she said. “As we mourn his loss at the College, we will also remember his remarkable contributions.”

Born in Providence, R.I., on April 1, 1936, Lester Fred Jewett attended Taunton High School before coming to Harvard. In addition to his career at Harvard, Jewett was a member the Phi Beta Kappa Society and of the Policy Committee of Ivy League Colleges, and served as a trustee of the College Board and of Buckingham Browne & Nichols School.

He is survived by his sister, Pauline “Skipp” Jewett Hill Shafer of West Lafayette, Ind.; his nephew, David Jewett of East Falmouth, Mass.; and several nieces, nephews, grandnieces, and grandnephews.

A memorial service celebrating the life and service of L. Fred Jewett is tentatively scheduled for the afternoon of April 20 at the Memorial Church in Harvard Yard. All are welcome to attend.