Combating an impression of the president as distant that emerged during Neil L. Rudenstine’s tenure, Summers has already spent hours meeting with undergraduates.
While Rudenstine committed the faux pas of missing tea and cookies with first-year students during his first fall, Summers has already touched base with over a dozen student groups, ranging from the Undergraduate Council to the Harvard-Radcliffe Band.
Summers’ speeches are peppered with references to the undergraduate body as his primary constituency. And Summers has said he hopes to visit each of the undergraduate Houses each year he is president, which is significantly more often than Rudenstine made the rounds. Summers even has his own first-year advisee, and in a sign that his openness is being well-received, his first publicized office hours were packed.
More substantively, Summers says he is interested in a range of issues that play prominently on the undergraduate’s mind. In interviews, Summers cites concerns about advising, class size and opportunities for study abroad as areas where Harvard should look to improve the undergraduate experience.
On some of these issues—advising, for example—Summers admits that he has ideas, but says it is too early to reveal nascent plans.
When it comes to opportunities for study abroad, Summers is taking early steps towards addressing widespread student criticism that it is too hard to get credit for study away from Harvard.
At its first meeting this fall, the Faculty Council was told that Summers wanted the issue of study abroad to be investigated. Summers says he hopes to bring attention to the fact that a low percentage of Harvard students study abroad, and stresses that the faculty should “look closely” into the ways Harvard could be more flexible.