Lythcott-Haims stepping down as dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising

Julie Lythcott-Haims, known affectionately to students as "Dean Julie," came to Stanford as a freshman in 1985. She is leaving her position as associate vice provost for undergraduate education and dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising in June to pursue her passion for writing as a master of fine arts student in poetry.

Dan Lythcott-Haims Julie Lythcott-Haims portrait

Julie Lythcott-Haims received the Dinkelspiel Award for contributions to undergraduate education in 2010.

Julie Lythcott-Haims, associate vice provost for undergraduate education and dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising, is leaving Stanford in June to enroll in the master of fine arts program at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco.

Lythcott-Haims, affectionately known to students as "Dean Julie," first came to Stanford as a freshman in 1985. She has worked as associate dean for student affairs in the Law School, assistant to the president and dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising in her 14 years as a university administrator. After graduating from Stanford, Lythcott-Haims earned her law degree at Harvard and practiced corporate law before returning to Stanford.

"It is virtually impossible to imagine Stanford without Julie Lythcott-Haims," said Harry Elam, the Freeman-Thornton Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. "She has been a key presence in the lives of Stanford students as well as in the functioning of the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. All the students know her as Dean Julie. Through her leadership, the advising program at Stanford has significantly improved. She has built community and elevated class spirit to new heights. Her charisma, her charm and her passion for Stanford and Stanford students have touched all of us. She will be sorely missed."

Lythcott-Haims, a 2010 winner of the Dinkelspiel Award for contributions to undergraduate education, talks about her time at Stanford and her plans for the future.


Why are you leaving and what are your plans?

In my current role, I try to get students to open up to themselves and honor what they hear. I love this work more than any other work I've done, and yet I know it's time to take my own advice and try to become the writer I would like to be. My formal next step will be an MFA in Writing (Poetry).  My first book project will reflect on what I've learned about students and parents as a university administrator. 


You have had a ringside seat to the Stanford culture for nearly 30 years. How has it changed?

Every time the band plays in the fountain at Admit Weekend and I watch a new set of students and parents take it all in, I say to myself, "Folks, 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."  The band was in that fountain when I arrived in 1985, and I'm glad that special blend of intellectualism and irreverence hasn't changed.

What has changed is that this great research university decided it also wanted to be great at undergraduate education by bringing our undergraduates into the center of the research mission and connecting them with faculty. Through introductory seminars, millions devoted to undergraduate research, sophomore college and the arts intensive, undergraduates have access to the very best of Stanford.  That's what my fellow alumni and I find most astonishing – that somehow Stanford is even better than when we were here.


Have students changed?

There's a lot more competition for each spot, and our students are incredibly accomplished coming out of high school. The university is much more diverse. The students are more career-oriented – but whether that is a function of their hearts changing or their minds just reacting to the realities of the economy is hard to know. They are also devoted to solving some of the world's most intractable problems.  The biggest difference I see is the involvement that parents have in the lives of their college students, who they may still think of as 'children.'


One of the most daunting challenges for all colleges and universities is freshman advising. What have you tried to do as dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising?

We've put the right people in the right advising roles, including eight PhD-level academic directors in the residences; an almost 30 percent increase in faculty and staff who volunteer to serve as pre-major advisers; enhancing what we offer upper division and pre-professional students via our Sweet Hall advising team; and doubling the size of our team that specializes in advising student-athletes. 

Our ongoing challenge remains being relevant in the lives of undergraduates who may not want advice from anyone older than the upperclassman down the hall. It's our job to create credibility with them.

In terms of what is left to be done, we need to provide intimate spaces where students can be brave and open themselves to the big picture questions like "Who am I? What are my values? Why am I here? What do I want from life? How can I map these answers onto what Stanford offers?"  We also need to help students more effectively navigate all we offer.  The new "Stanford 101" concept will address both of these points and  – if we stay on track – by fall of 2013, UAR and other departments will launch these offerings to students. 


Which of your positions did you find most rewarding?

I loved each for different reasons. The position at the Law School was a respite from the practice of corporate law, which was sucking the very life out of me. I knew I loved working with students after a day on the job.

Working for President Hennessy was exhilarating. I admire him greatly and saw firsthand the complex set of topics that cross a university president's desk. I was stunned he hired me because, in my interview, I told him that when I had gone to work as a lawyer at Intel, I wasn't even sure what a microprocessor was.

Being frosh dean has been a dream come true.  I am the first person to hold the role, and I got to dream up a desired future state and had the support of the university to make it happen.


What will you miss?

First and foremost I'll miss my team in Undergraduate Advising and Research and all of my other colleagues like crazy. And of course the students – the best undergraduates on the planet. The people of Stanford and the place itself are like family to me.

I'm going to have to say goodbye to the moniker "Dean Julie," the nickname "DJ" and my license plate: "FROSH." I've felt damn lucky just to get to be a part of this place. I'll miss the whole place and everything about it.  I feel so grateful to have had such a rewarding career at my alma mater.