By Judd Liebman
President Thomas C. Hudnut, who oversaw the merger of Harvard School for Boys and Westlake School for Girls, announced to the Board of Trustees Monday that he will retire after the 2012-2013 school year, his 26th year at the school.
“It’s going to be a strange feeling because I started going to nursery school when I was 3, which means that September of 2013 will be the first time in 63 years that I haven’t been going to school,” Hudnut said. “I’m sure that will feel strange.”
Hudnut, who turns 65 this spring, was the headmaster of Harvard School for Boys from 1987 until the creation of Harvard-Westlake in 1989. He served as headmaster for Harvard-Westlake from 1989 until 2007 when he took on the role as President.
“Obviously the merger of two schools was a huge event for everyone involved with either school,” he said. “The result is a school that is so much stronger and so much better in every way than either of its predecessor institutions.”
Hudnut earned his B.A. in politics from Princeton University and an M.A. in international relations from Tufts University. Before taking a position at Harvard School for Boys, Hudnut headed The Branson School in California.
As the first president of Harvard-Westlake, Hudnut “oversees Harvard-Westlake, Inc.,” he said in August. He is responsible for fundraising, admissions, public and alumni relations, campus planning and financial matters.
In addition to the merger and the Middle School Modernization Project, Hudnut directed the $13 million Munger Science Center project, the building of Feldman-Horn Art Gallery, the renovation of Weiler Hall and the installation of Ted Slavin Field.
“I don’t think there is a single moment that can characterize a 25-year experience,” he said. “It’s rather more like a collage. I love the dominant ethos of the school which I have long characterized as its being a place where it’s okay to want to do well.”
The Athletic Department grew under Hudnut’s leadership, as he added a Head of Athletics and various athletic directors. Hudnut also spearheaded a program to allow deans to provide guidance throughout high school and in the college process.
Hudnut has helped Harvard-Westlake achieve global recognition through his efforts to forge relationships with prominent high schools in the Pacific Rim.
“It has been a team effort all the way, and I am proud to have worked with such great colleagues,” Hudnut said.
Hudnut said his proudest moment at Harvard-Westlake was seeing the North Faring campus for the first time in 2006 after its renovation.
“That’s such an extraordinary, unbelievable place,” he said. “It really took my breath away the first time I saw it in the evening with the sun going down and the stars coming up. It’s just a beautiful place. What it represents is the culmination of many years of planning and hard work.”
The Middle School Modernization Project and upper school renovations worked well because teachers helped architects design and plan the new facilities, Hudnut said.
“Teachers know better than architects what works and what doesn’t,” Hudnut said. “Empowering and engaging the faculty to be helpful on these projects went a long way toward making them turn out as they did.”
Hudnut said the Upper School “is a hodgepodge of buildings now, some of which work and some of which don’t particularly work any longer. There is going to be have to be very careful thought given to the articulation and design of the upper school campus.”
After his departure from the school, Hudnut will remain in Los Angeles and join an executive search firm to help find school heads.
He might also pursue educational ventures in China.
“I do not intend to spend my retirement working on my golf game but rather doing things that I have never had the chance to do or been able to do previously,” Hudnut said.
There is currently no plan of succession for the vacancy left by Hudnut’s retirement.
“Contemplating one’s retirement is in a way exhilarating because there are other things to do in life, but in the same time, when almost the entirety of one’s life’s focus has been on a certain job for 25 years, it’s hard to imagine that’s not being a daily part of one’s life,” Hudnut said.