Many associate Harry Carman so strongly with the deanship of Columbia College that they forget he had been a pivotal influence at the College since the 1920s. Described as "one of the best loved and best known teachers of his generation," Carman became a mainstay of the history department, a staunch supporter of the Contemporary Civilization course, and a champion of the College within the University.
By the mid-1920s, a few years after his graduation from the College, Carman had become a guiding force behind CC, taking over the program after illness forced Coss to abandon teaching. His clear administrative skills in that position made him the logical successor as Dean of the College when Herbert Hawkes died in 1943. No less impressive as a historian, Carman was a recognized authority on American agricultural and rural history. He maintained a working farm in upstate New York, even as a full-time College administrator, once describing himself as "a good dirt farmer who never should have left Saratoga County."
Throughout his long career, Carman had an unequalled reputation for devotion to his students, helping to point a young Jacques Barzun toward a career of scholarship. Dwight Miner described him as a "friend and counselor of young men," and more than once passersby heard Carman leaving his undergraduate colloquium praising "the wonderful bunch of fellows in there." On occasion, he even dug into his own pocket to help needy students with expenses.
When Carman was obliged to retire as dean at age 65, he remained active at the University and in civic affairs. He returned to teaching history in the College for three more years and also served as a member of the New York City Board of Education.