Next in Line

Choice of Rubin as speaker at Commencement continues emphasis on economics

The Crimson greets with mixed feelings the selection of Robert E. Rubin ’60 by the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) to deliver this year’s Commencement address. Rubin is a leading national figure and certainly a worthy candidate to deliver a graduation speech. Yet we are concerned that, through no fault of his own, Rubin’s speech may be regarded by many seniors as simply more of the same. When giving his address this June, Rubin will follow Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen and Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan, two speakers whose major interests have similarly been economic.

None of this diminishes Rubin’s stature. Currently the chairman of Citigroup, Rubin served as treasury secretary from 1995 to 1999, before which he chaired the National Economic Council and served as co-senior partner of Goldman Sachs and Co. Rubin’s leadership at the Treasury Department has been widely praised, and there are lessons to be found in his experience managing the U.S. and global economy.

But the U.S. and global economies have been the specialties of the past two graduation speakers as well. Rubin will also be the second Treasury Secretary to be invited to campus in so many months; Rubin encouraged the selection of his successor Lawrence H. Summers as Harvard’s next president, although HAA president Scott Abell has said that Rubin was picked to speak several months before Summers was chosen.

Though we look forward to hearing Rubin speak, we remind Harvard of the value of variety in graduation speakers. Before Greenspan, Harvard’s graduates heard from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, National Institutes of Health Director Harold Varmus, Czech president Vaclav Havel, and even Vice President Al Gore ’69. This mix of speakers reflects Harvard students’ wide-ranging interests, and we would encourage Harvard to return to its previous practice of selecting speakers from all walks of public life.

Such variety would also be welcomed by graduation speakers. It does Rubin a disservice for his speech to be taken as one of many, rather than listened to as a unique address for a unique event in students’ lives.