Daniel Steiner: Bok's Troubleshooter
Harvard administrators and Harvard activists couldn't disagree more about Daniel Steiner '54.
To University officials, he is the consummate administrator: thoughtful, fair, coolheaded and decisive. They say those qualities have shone through in Steiner's 12 years as general counsel to the University, a post which during Steiner's reign has grown to encompass labor, personnel and police issues in addition to legal concerns. And they expect equally satisfying results from Steiner in his new capacity as vice president and general counsel, a promotion President Bok announced last week.
To University activists, he is the consummate enforcer tough, crafty, impenetrable and unyielding. When Black students occupied Massachusetts Hall for a week in April 1972 to protest Harvard investment policies, it was Steiner who carried a bullhorn outside and laid down the disciplinary law later. When labor organizers sought to unionize Medical Area personnel two years ago, it was Steiner who persistently--and successfully--lobbied workers to turn down the union. And just two weeks ago, when protestors demonstrated at Holyoke Center against Israeli incursions in Beirut, it was Steiner who quietly stood nearby and made sure the peace was kept.
The twin perceptions of Steiner grow out of his unofficial role as University troubleshooter. Early in the Bok years, he proved his mettle as an effective administrator, and the president increasingly entrusted him with sensitive crisis-management duties--foremost among them, dealing with student disruptions. Steiner himself didn't resist the new responsibilities which he once told The Crimson are "natural for a lawyer...I don't feel uncomfortable working in a charged atmosphere."
By all official accounts, Steiner injected a little calm rationality into a turbulent era, and while his bullhorn days have subsided, he remains Massachusetts Hall's day-to-day problem solver. His new vice-presidential responsibility of overseeing Harvard Real Estate (HRE), the controversial agency whose management of University property holdings has drawn flak from tenants in recent years, is only his most recent pinch-hitting duty.
"It was quite natural that Dan would be the person" to assume the HRE-oversight job after it was vacated this summer, Bok explains. "It's a little unfair to think of him simply as a general counsel."
Around Mass Hall, Steiner, 49, enjoys a reputation for more than dependability and versatility. He is widely seen as Bok's right-hand man, the aide whom the president is at once most likely to rely on and relax with. The two men work down the hall from each other on the first floor of Mass Hall, and Steiner has constant access to the president. He is also the unofficial captain of Bok's Jocks, a rag-tag team of Mass Hall softballers.
"They obviously have a very good and close relationship. There's a lot of trust there," says Steiner's brother, Henry J. Steiner '51, himself a professor of Law who served under Bok during the president's stint as Law School dean.
At first glance, that closeness might seem a bit unexpected. Steiner, alone among Harvard's current five vice presidents, was not appointed by Bok himself. He was brought on as Harvard's first general counsel during the final, embattled year of the Nathan M. Pusey '28 presidency. (Before Steiner's appointment, Pusey recalls, "You couldn't turn around without running the risk of getting involved in some legal complication.") Nor do Steiner and Bok come from similar social backgrounds. Bok was reared in Philadelphia's affluent, tree-lined Main Line suburbs, and Steiner grew up in middle-class neighborhoods in and around New York.
But the two men share legal training and, according to Mass Hall colleagues, legal minds. Both are low-key and reflective when making decisions and are careful to prepare for even the least likely eventuality. Like Bok, "he believes in what he says, and there's no need to stand up on a table and shout it," says Dianne Fraser, a Harvard negotiator who works with Steiner. As a result, says Financial Vice President Thomas O'Brien: "He's more like the president than the rest of us."
In person, Steiner speaks slowly, pausing before answering questions, weighing every word and often talking so softly as to require a listener to lean far forward. He is quite modest, explaining his recent promotion by saying simply. "My responsibilities have changed sufficiently." At a brief Mass Hall session last week. O'Brien toasted his new fellow vice president and reported afterwards that Steiner was "a little bit embarrassed to be recognized publicly, but pleased."
University labor organizers take a different view of Steiner. They say his low-key demeanor masks his aggressive behind-the-scenes efforts to quash unionization efforts on campus.
Officials of District 65, a union whose effort to organize Medical Area clerical and technical workers fell short in April 1981, still harbor resentment towards Steiner for his lobbying efforts against the union that year. Steiner would "go around to employees of the Medical Area and convince them to vote against the union," tell them that it wasn't "a good union," recalls an organizer who requests anonymity. "I'm sure he has a lot more important duties than trying to interfere with people trying to make a choice."
Mass Hall officials say Steiner opposed unionization because "he really didn't believe it was the best thing for Harvard employees," in the words of Robin Schmidt, vice president for government and community affairs. But the District 65 official says Steiner "never was real specific" about why the union would be detrimental to workers' interests
Instead, the official says, Steiner attended a series of small employee meetings and was "very intimidating." A leader of the 20-month-old Harvard Tenants Union, which HRE has refused to recognize, says he fears Steiner will work to oppose unionization in his new role.
In the end, the stands people take about Steiner seem to depend on where they sit. Saul L. Chafin, the chief of University police, which Steiner oversees, credits the new vice president with being a driving force behind the Harvard police department's professionalization. Steiner meets regularly with Chafin, reviews crime statistics and police logs daily, and has been known to appear at the scenes of campus crimes shortly after they've been reported.
Chafin is skeptical of labor charges that Steiner is unduly hard-line, calling his boss "fair but firm" and observing of the University's labor situation: "I don't see people running away from Harvard." He adds. "If I had to have a right-hand man. I'd want someone like that."