Bok Pledges 'Active Year'

Completion of curricular review among interim president's top priorities

Derek C. Bok expects to be out of a job by next July, but the University’s interim president said in an interview last Friday that his administration will not be “just holding things in place” for his successor.

Indeed, he added, “it’s going to be an active year.”

Bok said that he hopes to oversee the completion of the undergraduate curricular review, to push forward Harvard’s plans to expand its campus into Allston, and to conclude the work of a committee seeking to streamline interdisciplinary teaching and research in the sciences.

“We are certainly not making big new expenditures of money,” Bok said. “To the extent that we can, we’ve put off major funding, major administrative changes, and things of that kind that really…a new president ought to be able to make.”

But, he continued, “There are occasional things like the buildings in Allston, where you have to make a decision—you don’t have the luxury of waiting.”

Bok has likewise decided that Harvard does not have the luxury of waiting for a new set of permanent leaders before the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) finishes its curricular review.

“I want to do everything I can to bring the review of undergraduate education to a successful conclusion,” he said. “It’s about time that we really brought it to a close.”

The six-member faculty committee charged with revamping the College’s plan for general education—assembled by former Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby in May—has been “working hard all summer,” said Bok, who expects the committee to release a report of its proposals “some time in the early fall.”

Interim Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles wrote in an e-mail that the committee, co-chaired by Bass Professor of English and American Literature and Language Louis Menand and Professor of Philosophy Alison Simmons, may “conceivably” release its report in time for the November Faculty meeting.

Knowles, who, like Bok, expects to serve through the end of June, indicated that he too hopes to complete the curricular review in the coming year.

The interim dean took another step in that direction Tuesday when he launched an FAS task force to study ways to improve teaching at Harvard. The task force, chaired by Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Theda Skocpol, is expected to release its findings early next year.

Bok said in Friday’s interview that he hopes to “continue the momentum” regarding Harvard’s plans for Allston. Specifically, he explained, he intends to review the plans for the campus’s first new buildings, to submit a master plan to the City of Boston, and to establish “design guidelines” for Harvard’s construction projects in Allston.

Bok also said he plans oversee the resolution of the issues raised by the University Planning Committee for Science and Engineering (UPCSE).

The 24-member faculty committee released a preliminary report in July, recommending in part that Harvard “implement hands-on learning as a cornerstone in undergraduate science and engineering education” and eliminate barriers to interdisciplinary research across the University. The UPCSE plans to present a final report to Harvard’s governing boards in December.

Bok noted that his three main priorities—finishing the curricular review, continuing work in Allston, and concluding the work of the committee on science policy—all “have their roots in initiatives that were begun in the past.”

To be sure, the current review of undergraduate education under Bok’s predecessor, Lawrence H. Summers; Harvard has been planning developments in Allston at least since Bok’s original term, which lasted from 1971 to 1991; and the UPCSE held its first meetings last January.

Bok and Knowles began their interim terms on July 1. The two were appointed following a crisis of governance earlier this year that resulted in Summers’ resignation.

In a May interview, Bok said that “the summer is always a wonderful time to plan for the ensuing year. If you don’t plan then, you tend to be a captive of the problems that other people give you.”

—Staff writer Daniel J. T. Schuker can be reached at