Bok: A Lucky Man Who Made the Grade
"The first thing you'll have to do is get a phone you can disconnect," Francis H. Burr '35, Senior Fellow of the Corporation, told President-elect Derek C. Bok yesterday afternoon.
Burr gave his bit of advice to Bok, dean of the Law School, as the two men were standing on the tenth floor of Holyoke Center, waiting for an elevator after a 45-minute press conference in which Bok's election had been announced.
Bok's phone has been ringing for the last week and woke him at 3:30 a.m. yesterday morning, he said, even though he had placed it out in the hall under a blanket.
The day began officially at a more civilized hour when he gave his secretary a memorandum addressed to Law School faculty and staff members so that she could prepare it in anticipation of an announcement which was no longer even an open secret. Bok then spent the rest of the morning, including two-and-a-half hours with CRIMSON reporters, waiting for the expected phone call from Burr.
The Overseers began meeting at 10 a.m. in the Faculty room of University Hall, which was built in 1815 by Charles Bullfinch and studded with portraits and statues of famous Harvard Presidents and professors. The Corporation gathered in an adjoining room in Dean Dunlop's office.
Approval for Bok's selection took more than two hours as the full Board of Overseers questioned Burr-who supervised the selection process-and members of their executive committee on their interviews with Bok.
As the questions ended, Robert L. Hoguet '31, an Overseer from New York, rose to make the final nomination, but President Pusey interrupted. "No, I'd like to make this resolution," he said. "I nominate Derek Bok as the 25th President of Harvard University."
At 12:25 p.m., the Overseers applauded both their choice and Burr, the man who can take most of the credit for picking him, as Burr walked out of the room to call the new President.
Bok received the call at exactly 12:30 p.m. in his office, where he had been awaiting the word all morning. His secretary screened all the calls as he sat in his office with his wife Sissela, becoming visibly more fidgety as the wait stretched beyond the expected noon deadline.
Finally, his secretary put the call through, and he spoke briefly to Burr, ending by wishing him a pleasant fishing trip in New Zealand. He walked over to his wife, said, "Well, that's that. It's done," and kissed her. His three secretaries, somewhat teary-eyed, stood in the doorway as he explained to them solemnly that he could not have told them anything earlier. Then he said he needed a vacation.
The celebration in his office was brief and subdued. A representative from the Law School secretaries' association cornered him as Albert M. Sacks, associate dean of the Law School and Bok's probable successor as acting dean, entered the office. Bok finished his short conversation and then greeted Sacks with a bear hug.
By now his memo to the Law School had been sent out. In the brief statement, he said:
"I am very disappointed that you should have had to read about this decision in the newspapers instead of hearing about it directly from me. I hope you appreciate that I had no control over the circumstances that compelled me to remain silent nor those that resulted in the premature reports of my departure."
Bok spent most of the morning in an interview with the CRIMSON in which he dropped all pretense that he was not about to be named President and spoke in detail about his new job and the University.
"I don't think a President can do the job I think is needed if he spends a great deal of personal time raising money," he said. Instead, he said, "I would hope to develop the machinery with capable people in charge" who could raise funds.
While stressing that he only had a "fragmented" conception of the job, he said he expected "to trim the job to manageable dimensions" and concentrate on delegating authority and on meeting students.
"My own feeling is that it is really terribly important that you be as open as you can be about what you're doing, be very careful about what you promise and that you break your back to fulfill the commitments that you do make-and in that way very slowly build up trust in at least a substantial number of students and faculty," he said.
Bok, who has known Kingman Brewster since his days as a student at the Law School, said that he met with the Yale president in New York City over the holidays. "He gave my wife and me an idea of what the life was like," Bok said. "I was certainly struck by the great interest an enthusiasm he had for what he was doing... which was critical for me."
Brewster was the first person outside the University to respond officially to the news. From Yale, he issued a short statement saying, "I may be prejudiced because Derek and Sissela have beenclose friends of ours ever since his law student days. It is a superb choice, not just for Harvard's sake, but for the sake of higher education."
Other statements of congratulation came from Roswell B. Perkins '47, president of the Associated Harvard Alumni, and President Pusey.
"I could not be happier for myself or the University," Pusey said. "Dean Bok has shown himself admirably equipped to cope with the intensified demands posed for administrative officers in these difficult times.
"He knows the institution and its people. He is sympathetic to student needs, intelligent, energetic, imaginative, good-humored, conscientious, resilient, and, not least, willing."
Bok, who had previously denied interest in the Presidency, despite his apparent front-running candidacy, said he had not spoken with the Corporation until a month ago. "My only concern was that they'd pick some Napoleonic figure who would want to get his fingers into the Law School," he said.
A Day In
The rest of the day for Bok was a rapid succession of appearances and questions and photographs.
After a short lunch (at which he ate tuna fish sandwiches, he said), he appeared at Holyoke Center with Burr and C. Douglas Dillion '31, chairman of the Board of the Overseers.
He sat in front of a bevy of microphones and a row of cameras as he answered the questions of the newsmen packed into the room. He used almost the same phrasing he had used earlier, describing his hope of stimulating enthusiasm among undergraduates while refusing to "shoot from the hip" on questions about the future status of women at Harvard or offer his opinion of the report of the President's Commission on Campus Unrest.
In response to a question about the future of experimental programs such as the Afro-American Studies program he said, "My preferences for expenditures lie very much along the lines of educational programs rather than buildings or facilities and things of that sort."
The press conference ended exactly at 3 p.m. when a reporter said, "Thank you, Mr. President."
Bok's next step may well be the touchstone for understanding his approach to the Presidency. He went immediately to find President Pusey and arrange an appointment for today, and then to the afternoon meeting of the Overseers in the Faculty Club.
"I figure they have the right to meet the fellow they've elected," he said as he left Holyoke Center in the company of Burr and Dillon.
Bok spent 30 minutes with the Overseers, arriving just as they were discussing a Committee on Governance report on restructuring the Administration.
"I think everyone was impressed that he came over and offered himself up in the flesh," one Overseer said later. "We asked him many of the questions that Burr said he couldn't answer in the morning, and Bok was candid when he admitted he didn't know about many of the things.
"That's been the dilemma and the appeal of the man all along. He hasn't revealed himself even to some of his closest friends and yet he has the support of everyone from the Corporation to the CRIMSON," he added.
He walked back from the Faculty Club to the Law School where he found various professors, staff members and students who had prepared a champagne party to celebrate in his office. He left for his house in Belmont at 5:30 p.m. where he found his home "infested with photographers and people from Life magazine."
Bok posed for pictures with his wife and family until about 8 p.m., when he finally had dinner. Then, he said, a reporter from the Boston Globe appeared just as he was taking a "long, hot shower."
"We just drew the line at that point," he said. "It was too much trouble to get dressed."