On Your Marks, Get Set, Rowe

News Feature

When James H. Rowe '73 was a first-year student in 1969, he had no idea that 25 years later he would return as Harvard's vice president for government, community and public affairs.

But New England Telephone knew.

This summer, Rowe moved into his newly purchased Cambridge home. At that time, his insurance assessor informed him he had two listed phone numbers, one of which was for his 1969 Pennypacker 17 address.

"I have to call whoever lives there and apologize," Rowe says.

The 43-year-old Rowe has yet to connect with the four first-year women sharing his newly renovated Pennypacker quad. Instead, he's been connecting with Harvard bureaucrats, city officials and government powers-that-be.

Specifically, Rowe has been too busy trying to recharge a Harvard public relations bureaucracy that totally collapsed under the strain of Provost Jerry R. Green's unexpected departure last April.

The effort to deal with the news that Green was leaving his job to return to work as a professor was close to a meltdown, officials acknowledge. An all-time low was reached when the then-acting vice president, Jane H. Corlette, compared the turmoil in Massachusetts Hall to periods in French history when revolution toppled that country's top leaders.

With a strong bureaucracy under- neath Green and two other high-level departed officials, there was nothing to worry about, Corlette said.

Rowe, a veteran of legal work as a lawyer at NBC and a legislative counsel to Congress, is unlikely to repeat that kind of mistake. In wire-rimmed glasses and dark suits, he is smooth and controlled--and supremely careful with words

He may owe some of that calm to the turbulence he was as an undergraduate at Harvard. He was 18 years old when he moved into Pennypacker Hall in the stormy fall of 1969. Rowe now is lean and graying and settled, with a wife and two small children.

Rowe took a roundabout path through a turbulent Harvard during his years as an undergraduate. The period from 1969 to 1973 saw some of the most rapid change in Harvard's history.

The incoming vice president witnessed the Cambodian protests of the fall of 1969, the initiation of Matina S. Horner as the president of "non-merged" Radcliffe, the aftermath of the April 1969 student takeover of University Hall, and the strife-torn transition between President Nathan M. Pusey '28 and Derek C. Bok.

"Those were interesting years," Rowe recalls.

Rowe himself seems to have captured something of the spirit of the times. He says the year book photo reprinted on this page is an unauthorized picture because he and many of his class mates boycotted the yearbook photo sessions.

As an undergraduate ion Lowell and Leverett Houses, Rowe captured not just the look but the spirit of the liberal. He tutored Roxbury children through Phillips Brooks House, where he served as vice president, and was a member of the Young Democrats.

Rowe also dabbled in sports during his tenure here, playing tennis and baseball. He recalls one particularly moving game in which he did not participate.

"I remember Bok tearing his Achilles tendon playing basketball with The Crimson," he says.

Home to Washington

The long-haired future flack started out as a history concentrator intent on law and earned his professional degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1979. Rowe spent the next 15 years learning the ins and outs of his hometown of Washington D.C.

Rowe served as Chief Counsel for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and, later, as Chief Counsel for the U.S. House Budget Committee's Task force on Urgent Fiscal Issues. He also worked as a private attorney in New York and Washington, D.C. and was a partner in the firm of Corcoran, Youngman and Rowe.

While working as a lawyer in Congress, Rowe occupied himself with gun control and crime prevention. After becoming a vice president in NBC's Washington, D.C. office, he oversaw legal, regulatory and legislative matters for the network.

Rowe says some of his most valuable work with the "More You Know campaign," in which television stars and celebrities advised young viewers on matters such as gun control.

NBC used "anybody who could focus the eyeballs of young viewers," Rowe says.

His NBC post important, he says, because of the central role of television in shaping public opinion.

"We were the service that is most universal and we're free," he says.

Rowe's experience as a member of Washington's media and political apparatus made him a strong candidate for the job. Harvard officials who have worked with him in the nation's capital say few can approach his knowledge of Congress or public relations.

That knowledge could come in handy during the next year, as health care, funding for space research and other issues dear to Harvard come before Congress.

University officials are particularly concerned that any health care reform could cut back subsidies for research and training. New federal standards on health care coverage could also affect Harvard as an employer.

"He did come on board at a time when there are a lot of things on board in Washington," says Kevin Casey, Harvard's director of federal and state relations.

Casey says it is fortunate that Rowe joined the office during as election year. A Congressional recess for the campaign season will give Rowe and his new colleagues time to brainstorm new lobbying strategies and to review upcoming higher education legislation, Casey says.

"One of the things I've experienced with him is a lot of actute political insight and knowledge about the Washington, D.C. scene," Casey says. "And that's something I'm looking forward to working with."

Back to School

Despite his many ties is Washington, when Harvard called, its alumnus listened. He also must deal with the inconvenience of moving two young children--Christopher, six, and Lucia, three--and uprooting wife Lisa Adams from her job as an interior designer for a prominent D.C. architecture firm.

Rowe's experiences at the turbulent Harvard of the sixties may ready him for the transition to today's complex institution. At the University of 1990s, issues of funding and accountability dwarf any faculty-student strife.

"One reason I took the job is that I thought it was vital that Harvard and higher education thrive and that Harvard continue to be the beacon that it is today," Rowe says.

In his new job, Rowe will be the University's chief protector on potentially embarrassing issues. He replaces the highly-esteemed John Shattuck, who left Harvard in 1993 to join the Clinton administration as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

This is a nervous time for Harvard's public relations gurus. With a $2.1 billion capital campaign during which the University must raise $1 million per day, a serious mistake can cost Harvard big money.

Rowe's job-here is made easier by a belief "in the institution that I'm working for and the mission of that institution," he says. "I thought this was a great opportunity for me."

Still, Rowe is noticeably less at home on the left bank of the Charles River than he was on the north side of the Potomac. So shortly after arriving on campus, Rowe demanded a tour of the local area to familiarize himself with the cities that have become his home and workplace.

"I insisted that I be guided logistically through Cambridge," Rowe says.

Around Harvard Yard, Rowe is often guided by Joe Wrinn, his new appointment to the post of acting director of the University's Office of News and Public Affairs.

"A large percent of his time has been spent meeting the fairly large number of people his is going to need to get to know here in the University," says Corlette, who has returned to her job as director of governmental relations for health policy.

Besides touring the city and getting his children ready for school--six-year-old Christopher starts classes this week--Rowe is settling into his new job.

"I'm really only at the very early stages of listening and learning," he says.

Rowe faces daunting tasks. In addition to his spin control duties, he is in charge of Harvard's relations with local, state and national lawmakers. Much of his time is likely to be spent battling budget conscious lawmakers bids to reduce research money.

"Funding for the research university is what we're going for," Rowe says. "Can we make higher education more of a priority for decision makers"

As Congress recesses, Rowe and Casey will "plan for the next Congress, to plan for what we've now come to realize are very competitive and difficult times for research funding," Casey says.

Casey and others hope Rowe's Washington savvy will translate into the needed money. Rowe is making no promises.

"The issues are complex in Washington, D.C.," Rowe says. "Funding for everybody is u in the air."

Already, those who work with Rowe say he is making progress. Nan F. Nixon, director of governmental relations at Harvard's Washington office, says Rowe has already won over some D.C. politicos.

"He's been down here talking with people on the Hill, talking with members of the staff, and he made a very good impression," Nixon says.

City Relations

Hoping to head of any town-gown tensions, Rowe has also spent time with city officials. He has met with Cambridge's aloof and occasionally temperamental mayor, Kenneth E. Reeves '72, who criticized Harvard at several points during the 1993 city council campaign.

"I think we have really good relations with Cambridge," Rowe says, hopefully.

Isaac Graves, Reeves' chief of staff, says he hopes Rowe will help improve relations between the city and the University.

"Clearly as, I don't want to say your landlord, but as your neighbor, it's in our interest to have Harvard be an active neighbor and not to turn inward," graves says.

Comprehensive Review

Rowe has contracted outside analysts to conduct a comprehensive review of the mission and past performance of his office. The review has nothing to do with the public relations nightmare of the spring, Rowe says. It's simply good administrative practice.

"I figure if I don't do this now I might never get around to it," Rowe says.

The review includes an assessment of the purpose of each of the office's three components--government, community and public affaire.

"We need really to assess the reviews, to talk in a comprehensive way with the people around us and see what possible steps might be taken," Rowe says.

Despite Rowe's long, early strides, Casey cautions that it will take a long time for the vice president to make significant changes.

"He's still getting his feet on the ground interns of the university," Casey say. "When I came to work for Harvard, coming from the political sector myself, it takes a long time to find out where the Xerox machine is."Photo Courtesy of Harvard News Office and (inset) Harvard ArchievesJAMES H. ROWE '73, today and (insert) in "unauthorized" picture from 1973 yearbook