After nearly 40 years, Dean Michael Shinagel is leaving his role as dean of the Harvard Division of Continuing Education. Many of us wouldn’t be where we are today without his years of dedication. Here, we honor his legacy and share reflections.

Milestones in the dean’s career

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Shared stories

Prudence Steiner replied:

Dear Michael,

I don't know whether to smile or to mourn...Certainly you have earned the right to move on, after all the years during which you trained--with skill, insight, and good humor—so many participants in the Extension School's work. And what a collection of things to deal with: curriculum and crotchety alumni budgets and buildings; fundraising and faculty issues. Yet through it all you've managed to guide an essential part of Harvard's—and the nation's—educational mission. Preparing part-time students, ranging in age from twenty to eighty, to think, to read and to write, giving them the courage and opportunity to explore and deepen their understanding of the world: that's what the Extension School was created to do, and you have kept it to its mission and enlarged its scope.

So I smile because you'll be free of some of the nagging problems that come with any large enterprise, and I mourn because, well, who could succeed you with equal success? As Thomas Jefferson said of Benjamin Franklin, "No one can replace him." Still the School has so solid a foundation that I know it will be able to keep to the course you've set and understand the vision with which you've guided it.

With gratitude and affection.

Prudence L. Steiner

Dr. Cathy Colman replied:

Dean Shinagel----Hearty congratulations indeed--and I add my voice in appreciation. Not just as a fine neighbor, though that too is important.
At an important time, you reached out to my son Jesse, and that started a sequence of events that was so salubrious for him----his attending Extension; his connection with one professor; and finally work ending up with an outstanding job.
I know you know what it is to be offered a helping hand, and I admire your, in turn, offering one to so many others. So I simply add my voice to the many others in appreciation.

with warm regards,
Cathy Colman

Stephen Greyser replied:

For Dean Michael Shinagel:

It can truly be said of you… “He is a legend in his own time.” More significant to me, however, you are truly a “heritage brand” at Harvard, as Dean and on behalf of Continuing Education institutionally.

A heritage brand encompasses not just what it does (or makes), but what it truly is and particularly what it stands for. A brand with a high HQ (heritage quotient) encompasses longevity (of course); a track record for delivering value to customers over time; the use of symbols; the importance of history to its identity; and strong guiding core values.

Heritage brands may be rooted in the past, but they live in the present and future. As co-creator of the concept (2006), let me not expound on it—but apply it…to you and the School during your era as Dean. Some highlights:

Your deep belief in the mission and values of the School—to bring a Harvard education (in pieces or gestalt) to those beyond the ivied walls.

Your pioneering and prescient espousal and vigorous advocacy for, and implementation of, distance learning, particularly via harnessing technology.

Your eloquent and articulate writing and speaking in conjunction with the 2010 Centennial, capturing (often with wit and humor) the heritage of President Lowell’s innovation and its translation by you and colleagues into the 21st century.
As Harvard’s longest serving Dean (archivally-supported), it may be particularly appropriate that I am likening you and the Division to a branding concept involving longevity (as one dimension). For those not chasing footnotes on the original article, let me ask: “Is it irony or fate (or both) that the heritage brand concept that I am using to characterize you emerged from our field-based research on monarchies?!?” After some 38 years, perhaps we can forgive Michael for occasional monarchic moments.

Michael, your achievements have been recognized both nearby and nationally. You have made a true difference in how Harvard has extended its reach, and how Harvard’s service to the community around it is seen. A heritage brand indeed!

Professor Stephen A. Greyser
Extension Instructor since 2001-2
Co-creator, “Heritage Brand” concept, 2006

Anonymous replied:

I happened to meet the Dean once in the offices on Brattle Street. Warm, interested, courteous, gentlemanly ... we are all in his debt for a fine history of our school, supplying the omission of Samuel Eliot Morrison. I will graduate next week, and look forward to his resonant greeting in Tercentenary Theatre: "Madame President and Fellows of Harvard College, Madame President and Members of the Board of Overseers, as Dean of the School of Continuing Education and University Extension, I have the honor to present to you these students ..."

Many thanks, Dean Shinagel, and Godspeed.

John Bidwell replied:

Dean Shinagel has built one of the finest components of Harvard University. It provided me a capstone experience following Harvard College and MIT. Thank you, Dean Shinagel. May you have fair winds and following seas as your journey continues.

Leonard Kopelman replied:

We are very much aware that Mike Shinagel grew the Harvard Extension from the small catalog of scattered courses to an on-line large catalog of well put together courses, certificates, and degrees. We know that as a result, Extension has grown worldwide, with a large audience. But that doesn’t define the persona of Mike as the longest standing dean at Harvard.

I first knew Mike Shinagel 50 years ago as my advisor as an undergraduate at Harvard College. As I moved through college, I felt that he cared about me and the students he advised. When I had any issue, I would go to him for advice. Some years later he inherited me as a teacher in the Extension School, and he was not only my employer but continued to be my advisor and mentor.

I am sure there will be many people who have the same story I do, since everybody seems to know Mike. When I walk across Harvard Yard with him, students and faculty are waving to him and many stop to chat. He is clearly in my mind not only the DEAN but the MAYOR of Harvard University.

His light will not be extinguished by his retiring from his current position since I know that he will continue to be available to all of us. For me, Harvard is not the Alma Mater, it is the Alma Pater, with Mike being the Pater.

Anonymous replied:

Dear Dean Shinagel,

Thank you for 38 years of service that helped elevate our school to the top. In the past, you frequently remarked that the Extension School was one of Harvard's best kept secrets. You can't really say that any longer. The secret is out. You helped make the Extension School one of Harvard's best known secrets. Personally, I would like to thank you for fighting so hard to bring the Phi Beta chapter of Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honor Society to DCE. As a Reginal H. Phelps Prize winner in my graduating year, I was fortunate enough to be one of the original inductees into our Phi Beta chapter. The lead photo on the Dean Sinagel Tribute Page brings back fond memories of that festive event that I was able to share with "the Dean." You have definitely helped to make my world a better place. Enjoy your retirement!

Mickey Zemon replied:

I am happy to have this chance to express my appreciation to you for your creation and development of HILR, an extraordinary experience for all of us during our retirement years. Let me join in by saying how much I admire you for your leadership in providing the opportunity for so many continuing education students to achieve their goals through the HDCE. To learners of all ages, you will always be the lord!

Trish Hogan replied:

First time seeing you I had no idea who Dean Shinagel was. I soon learned and what a brilliant, warm, personable, and creative person you are. Your legacy I love the most is the creation of HILR. I will forever have you in my heart for bringing forth this institution. Thank You.

Frederick R. Bieber, Ph.D. replied:

Dear Dean Shinagel.

Please accept my hearty congratulations on a distinguished and remarkable career leading the Harvard Division of Continuing Education. As a new post-doctoral fellow in the early 1980s I had the pleasure to begin teaching at the Harvard Summer School, followed by now 30 years of continous teaching one or two courses per year at the Extension School, along with my full-time work in the Harvard Faculty of Medicine.

The Extension School has provided a wonderful experience for me as a teacher and mentor and the administrative team you have assembled in Cambridge makes working with the DCE seamless and enjoyable. I especially applaud the work you have done with the various ALM programs and with expanding the outreach for distance learning opportunities. Harvard has always had a worldwide impact and the Extension School programs will allow foreign students returning home to bring the ideas and teaching methods to their own nations.

Hopefully you will be available to guide and mentor the new Dean who has big shoes to fill.
With all my very best wishes and regards,


Frederick R. Bieber, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Pathology
Harvard Medical School

Ellie Freedman replied:

Dear Dean Mike,

I hope you have some sense of how much HILR has meant to so many of us. It is hard for me to imagine what my last 22 years would have been like without my one (or two or three) drives down from NH to Cambridge every week. I started with a study group on Islam, years before we had any idea of how much we would soon need that knowledge. And I have just wound up with perhaps the most challenging class of all: James Joyce's Ulysses. In between have been history, philosophy, Russian Lit, art, music, films, constitutional analyses, architecture, the brain, Civil Liberties Club, politics; add being a Study Group Leader, serving on Teaching and Learning Committee, Nominating Committee, Council...enough to fill these 22 years of retirement. Not just to "fill it", but to give it focus and meaning.

A million thanks to you for getting HILR started and supported. It flourishes with each new generation of seniors that enter.

Anonymous replied:

Taking classes over 25 years at the Harvard Extension School, Dean Shinagel has been a symbol of the school for me - warm, welcoming, encouraging, intellectually inspiring, and just a wonderful person and presence. Thank you, Dean Shinagel, and wishing you much happiness and fulfillment. You have definitely made my life better.

Amy Gracia replied:

All the best to Dean Shinagel. Harvard Extension is a dream come true for those of us who seek knowledge and desire the best, but have already begun careers and must take an alternate route. It was the best of the best I encountered by taking a literature class with Professor Shinagel. My first experience with Harvard Extension proved to be rewarding, challenging and every bit as enriching as I expected from the name Harvard. Professor Shinagel made me feel a part of the Harvard community, yet kept me on my toes! I am greatly honored and to have sat under his direction as a student and as a teacher, under his tutelage.

Sharon Hamilton replied:

Dear Mike, Even as a relatively new member of HILR, I am keenly aware of how ideal a vehicle it is for enriching the retirement years. Thanks to your vision and guidance, HILR offers us lucky participants abundant opportunities for intellectual stimulation, friendship, leadership, and creative expression. I wish you the pride in your legacy and the relish of your coming leisure that you richly deserve.

Ross Neisuler replied:

Dean Shinagel had the vision to imagine what continuous learning for seniors might be like, to father the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement, and to deepen it and defend it over the years. We will always owe him a great debt of gratitude. Good luck to you, Michael, in whatever you put your hand to next, and thanks for the loan of your wife at HILR!

Ellie Porter replied:

HILR is today where your vision has brought us. You will be tomorrow where a new vision takes you. After all, Was man kann, man sollte. Thank you for my second chance to be intoxicated with learning. And may all your visions be bountiful.

Eva Arnott replied:

It has been pleasure over the years to see the expansion of Harvard's continuing education programs under your skillful guidance. I hope that you will consider staying with HILR as an active member now that you will more time. Thank you for all you've done for this small part of the WGU.

Christina Thompson replied:

Huge thanks to Mike for supporting Harvard Review over the years. His advice and encouragement, not to mention occasional financial support, were absolutely critical to the early success of the journal. Just one of the many, many ways in which he made the university a better place. Cheers and affectionate best wishes from the staff of Harvard Review.

Sarah Smith replied:

The first time I met Dean Shinagel was actually at commencement in 2010 when he awarded me with a Thomas Phelps prize. I was fortunate enough to take his seminar, Classic Fictions Reconsidered, a few years later as I began to pursue an ALM in English. I deeply appreciated his perspective on the study of literature generally, as well as his thoughts on the specific works we discussed over the course of the semester. Dean Shinagel was certainly a tough teacher, but that inspired me to work harder and labor a little longer over my writing assignments and readings. I felt like his door was open to me as a student of his class and of his school. I am grateful not only for having him as a teacher but more broadly for the school he helped created. Because of his work, I have an ALB and am on my way to earning an ALM. I hope Dean Shinagel is proud of his legacy and that he enjoys his retirement! He should check in and let us know what he's reading during his new found free time! Warm regards, Sarah Smith HES 2010

Joyce Wilson replied:

Tribute to a Dean
To Michael Shinagel

Professor, dean, and scholar,
He sought pursuit of excellence
For all who would stand taller.

The dream began with Lowell
Who left instructions in his will
To further Harvard’s role

In Boston’s lecture movement
Where soon the best professors spoke
For adults’ self-improvement.

The plan was open-hearted:
With payment of two sheaves of wheat,
A student could get started.

Demand for learning soared.
As decades gathered up the years,
Shinagel came on board.

Not all traditions hold.
Scholarships would offset costs,
Degrees direct the bold;

Developing more classes,
Helping teachers learn to teach,
He reached out to the masses,

Put practice into place
For courses on the Internet
To balance time and space.

Catalpa at the gate
Has seen those open up their minds
Who come to learning late.

Professor, dean, and friend,
Who made curricula the means
To knowledge as its end.

Catherine Blake replied:

During our commencement, Dean Shinagel explained the Harvard Extension School emblem. The oil lamp symbolizes burning the midnight oil, something I had done sacrificially to complete the management program while working full-time. It was worth every minute! - Class of 1994 HEAA Board of Directors

Philip Harding replied:

I'll never forget the night we marched into Harvard Yard to join Harvard's 375th celebration. We were led by Dean Shinagel and his wife. The rain was pouring down and we were soaked to the bone, but our spirits were high. We had pounding music and a choreographed presentation. In the midst of the chaos, Dean Shinagel proudly presented the Harvard Extension School wearing an exclamation point on his shirt.

His dedication and school pride were evident that night. However, his true dedication is evident in all the work we never saw publicly - his countless hours, meetings, and planning sessions that improved the school that has touched so many lives around the globe.

As Dean Shinagel enters a new chapter in his life, I will always be grateful for his dedication that changed my life's story forever.

Thank you Dean Shinagel.