Leslie A. Kirwan ’79 — the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean for Administration and Finance — will retire next spring, FAS Dean Claudine Gay announced in an email to faculty and staff Tuesday afternoon.
Kirwan’s accomplishments are “considerable and wide-ranging,” Gay wrote. After being recruited in 2009 to oversee all FAS administrative functions, she helped guide FAS out of a massive deficit following the 2008 financial crisis, balancing the budget by 2012 and eventually guiding the school to a $13.6 million surplus in 2019.
While maintaining the size of the faculty, Kirwan enabled the expansion of the financial aid program and the renovation of more than 800,000 square feet of space in the undergraduate residential Houses, according to Gay.
More recently, she led the FAS’s fiscal response to another economic downturn — the pandemic-induced recession, which led to more than $30 million in losses for the FAS alone.
“Now, as the FAS confronts the unprecedented challenges of the global pandemic, we do so with the benefit of Leslie’s wisdom and experience, of the strong teams she has built, and of a community that knows how to work together on hard problems in the face of considerable uncertainty,” Gay wrote. “And even as the Zoom calls stretch from early morning to late at night, Leslie’s warmth and humor, her dedication to her team and to the success of our academic community continue to lift me up when I feel my own energy flagging.”
Kirwan also restructured the FAS’s academic and budget planning. She implemented multi-year financial planning, introduced Generally Accepted Accounting Principles to the FAS, and initiated comprehensive annual public reports of the FAS financial decision. She also helped build the integrated model of Harvard University Information Technology, according to Gay.
Before joining the FAS, Kirwan served as finance director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, helping to lead the agency through a massive drop in revenues following the September 11 attacks. She came to Harvard from a position serving as the State of Massachusetts’ Secretary of Administration and Finance under Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78, the first woman to serve in that position.
Often most visible to Harvard College students and FAS affiliates through her weather advisory emails, she would periodically announced that “FAS is currently expected to be open, with all events held as scheduled.”
Gay congratulated Kirwan for the “proud legacy” she will leave at Harvard.
“We have each been drawn to Harvard to participate in its enduring mission, one that betters the world by championing truth, advancing knowledge, and deepening our understanding of what it means to be human,” Gay wrote. “Dean Kirwan personifies this deep institutional commitment and fearless stewardship in service of our enduring mission.”
The FAS will launch an “international” search for Kirwan’s successor this fall, Gay wrote.