The first rule of Harvard politics has six words: Every tub on its own bottom. ("Tub" refers to each of Harvard's nine schools. This system dictates that each school manages its own affairs, giving deans both ultimate power and responsibility.)
A goal of Rudenstine's administration since it began in 1991 has been to weaken the rugged-individual school paradigm. But Rudenstine did so delicately, proposing to transform Harvard's decentralized environment-not to something more centralized-but to a more coordinated, cooperative system, capitalizing on the magical buzzword of the '90s: Synergy.
In the coming year, some of Rudenstine's major objectives-finishing the capital campaign and instituting Project ADAPT-will continue to challenge this delicate approach, encouraging cooperation without undermining autonomy.
Gathering financial and administrative information in Harvard's decentralized environment is like moving bathwater from tub to tub with a spoon. Project ADAPT hopes to invent the pipe.
Project ADAPT will bring new software to offices across the University to manage and coordinate purchasing, pay roll, grant management, benefits, accounts payable and receivable and hiring, systems the University last changed during the Eisenhower administration and that are vastly different from school to school.
"It's a not a project run out of [the ADAPT office], it's a project for the whole University," said Vice President for Finance Elizabeth C. "Beppie" Huidekoper.
There's only one catch: Harvard's nine schools will have to play by the same set of accounting and collection rules, and nobody can take their bat and ball and just go home.
Huidekoper gives a small now-and-then example. Now a department at Harvard can buy a $500,000 computer and report the entire expense, which could, for instance, offset a budget surplus. After the new systems are in place, all of Harvard's tubs will use generally accepted accounting practices. With the computer, the department would then be required to spread its cost out over the years it will be used.
For some, ADAPT threatens to do more than "coordinate" Harvard's schools. It will force them to stand by their numbers, not massage them for convenience.
Sources said Harvard's schools have also been surprised and sometimes upset about the resources they've had to invest in the project. The $50 million budgeted for it pays mainly for the project's central expenses, not local-level implementation.
And the project has experienced setbacks. Most recently, the project director-overwhelmed by the task, sources said-resigned. The project was reorganized this summer, carving a greater role for Huidekoper and Ann H. Margulies, assistant provost for information technology.
"[The previous director] thought it was undoable, and it probably was under the previous structure, but it's set up right now," Huidekoper said.
This year officials will continue to design the new databases, chart of accounts and general ledger that will form the backbone of the project.
"I think we need to focus on ADAPT and not get ourselves spread to thin next year," said Sally H. Zeckhauser, vice president for administration.