In 1886 Ephraim Whitney Gurney, a professor of history and Corporation member, died. His death marked the end of an era--no working Harvard professor would serve on the Corporation for another 99 years.
That tradition ended in 1985 when Geyser University Professor Henry Rosovsky became a member of the seven-man body. Rosovsky, a man who has donned many different hats during his 27-year Harvard career, still bears the distinction of being the only working Harvard professor on the Corporation, its newest member and the one with the most student and faculty contact.
Rosovsky himself is inclined to play down his role as a Corporation member. He sees himself primarily as a Harvard professor. Sitting in his Littauer office with classical music playing on the radio, the economics professor says that he thinks his faculty background does afford him a different perspective from many of the other Corporation members.
"I do think there's a difference from looking at something from the outside and from the inside," he says, pointing out that President Bok, another Corporation member, also comes from the faculty at the Law School.
And if any member of the faculty is looking from the inside, Rosovsky is. The 59-year-old Polish native has experienced almost every aspect of Harvard faculty life from his years as a graduate student to dean of the Faculty, during which he established the current Core curriculum. Yet, at no point in his Harvard career has he seen himself as fitting into one niche, he says.
"Life does not consist of only one role. Most people have different roles and obligations. I don't think it [becoming a Corporation member] has changed my life very much, I know myself first and foremost as a Harvard professor; it's always been my primary identity," he says, adding, "I now feel that some years ago I was given another opportunity and obligation."
In keeping with this philosophy, Rosovsky says that his being a Corporation member has not changed relations with his students or colleagues. He speculates that most of the students in his everpopular Core course Historical Studies A-14, "Tradition and Transformation in East Asian Civilization: Japan," do not "have the faintest notion that I am a member of the Corporation."
Faculty members are different, Rosovsky accedes after some thought. Sometimes, a colleague will come by his office to talk in general about a matter of Harvard policy. "There I think I'm performing the task for which I have been selected," he says, explaining that his presence on the Corporation may in part provide a link between the faculty and the University's chief governing board.
However, Rosovsky is quick to add, he does not view himself as a representative of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in his capacity as Corporation member. "I don't feel I'm a representative. I don't think the Corporation is built on the basis of public representation," he says, "It's very hard to believe you can structure a group of five on a representational basis. It's not like having a congress or senate."
Since the Corporation spends much of its time in general discussion, Rosovsky says he is able to give the group an idea of what the faculty and students feel on issue rather than necessarily being an advocate of their views. "I hope one valuable thing for my being there is that it gives the members of the Corporation better communication than they may have had. If I keep my ears open, which I've always believed in anyway, I hear a lot," he says.
During his tenure as dean, Rosovsky is reported to have said in a now apocryphal story that students should have less involvement in the governing of the University because, "students are here for four years, the faculty are here for a lifetime and the institution is here forever."
Today from his vantage as Corporation member, Rosovsky says of his comment: "That's the principle of governance. I think power has to be a function of what is being governed and the time one devotes to these issues and also I think to the level of maturity. All I meant to say with that particular remark is that there's a conflict of interest. If you're in a place for four years, you might make the decision the consequences of which don't touch you at all and could have a slight conflict of interest."