Since his earliest days as dean of students at Princeton, Harvard's President Neil L. Rudenstine has been known more for his powers of collegial persuasion than for shows of forceful leadership. * But in his first interview of the academic year just three weeks ago, the behind-the-scenes President kept his charm while also speaking in new terms about his "broad agenda" for the coming years and his "vision" for Harvard and its central administration. * Administration sources already said that with Rudenstine about to enter his seventh year at Harvard and the end of the capital campaign not too far away, the "second half" of his presidency is about to begin. * Though Rudenstine's "broad agenda" will not be completely evident until later in the year, many of the administration's efforts over the past years will come to fruition before the end of this semester. * Both the University-wide Information Technology and Benefits Committees will make reports early in the semester and, more importantly, the administration will release a three-year agenda around November, outlining the center's major objectives through 1999. * The University's $2.1 billion Capital Campaign-having raised 75 percent of its goal-will also begin to draw to a close. And this will be a formative year for Project ADAPT, a multi-million dollar initiative to centralize financial and administrative information services across the University. * Rudenstine seemed rested, renewed and optimistic after a month long working-vacation in Europe this summer. Though not out of mind, many of last year's controversies-like those over Associate Professor of Government Bonnie Honig, Harvard Institute for International Development and Harvard's Allston land purchase-seemed out of sight. * And Rudenstine should have more time to devote to his agenda, since the staff of senior administrators Rudenstine relies on to run a complex and far-flung University seems stable for the first time in his presidency. Gone are the year-long quests to fill vacant deanships and vice-presidential posts that have made Rudenstine's presidency seem like one long search committee. * But this year will bring difficulties-both planned and unplanned-as well. * Harvard's nine schools will again be watching for increasing centralization-a dirty word in a university that prides itself on the authority of its separate "tubs." * Already one administrator described some of the information technology report's recommendations as "controversial"-particularly in the area of intellectual property where the University will try to control more tightly the use of its prized seven-letter name. * Plus, centralization-or "increased coordination" as it is euphemistically called-is at the heart of Project ADAPT's mission. Frustration with trying to bringing Harvard's scattered schools closer together already caused the project's first director to resign this summer. * Rudenstine's brightest star this year should prove to be his bully pulpit. The president has spoken out rarely but has throughout his career favored two issues: the cost of higher education and the importance of diversity. * Both are now hot issues in Washington, and Rudenstine is using his knowledge from the study of these topics and his clout as a Harvard president to influence the debate. * Nearly seven years after taking office, Rudenstine has replaced the last vestiges of the administration left by his predecessor, Derek C. Bok, and implemented many of his initial goals through a maniacal devotion to the capital campaign. Again the time has come to plan, and with characteristically subtle insistency rather than the pontification of his predecessor, Rudenstine's vision comes into focus.