“I’ve said that as president, further strengthening undergraduate education is one of my most important priorities,” Summers said in his first public address to students since taking over the presidency in July.
Summers said that teaching and advising undergraduates are the faculty’s most important duties.
Since being named president last March, Summers has moved cautiously in revealing his agenda, but his comments Sunday were the latest in a series of signs that he wants to take an active role in improving undergraduate education. Former president Neil L. Rudenstine was better known for his work on University-wide issues, including the Capital Campaign and interfaculty initiatives to unite the various faculties.
University presidents have in the past been crucial players in reforms to the College, which operates as an independent unit within the University. Derek C. Bok, who served as president throughout the 1970s and 1980s, worked with then-Dean of the Faculty Henry Rosovsky to form the Core Curriculum.
Summers’ comments on the primacy of College issues were buried in the middle of his four-page speech.
The new president opened his speech by welcoming “fellow members of the class of 2005,” explaining that he too considers himself a new student.
He joked that since he took over in July, he has been enjoying an “indoor orientation program” of his own, and has had his share of “new student” difficulties—he said he couldn’t even get a Harvard Coop number because he hadn’t been issued a Harvard I.D.
Summers assured new students that they too will get lost and confused and advised them that they should enjoy the acclimation process.
Summers also spoke on the typical opening exercises topics of making the most of one’s time here, appreciating the diverse and talented class students have become a part of, and finding one’s passions.
Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 was the first to officially address the class at the opening exercises, and introduced Summers. Musical interludes by the Harvard and Radcliffe choruses separated speeches by Lewis, Summers, Dean of Freshman Elizabeth Studley “Ibby” Nathans and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Jeremy R. Knowles.
The ceremony was conducted under a cloudless sky marred only by a loudly circling helicopter.
Knowles’ speech drew occasional laughs, but it was his improvisation that the crowd most appreciated: when the helicopter circled low above Tercentenary Theatre, partially drowning out Knowles’ distinct British voice, the dean joked that it was a late-arriving first-year.
—Staff writer David H. Gellis can be reached at email@example.com.