Following the first significant changes in its more than 300-year history, Harvard’s highest governing body is entering a new era with a new leader—one who, members say, reflect the stated priorities of a Harvard Corporation of the 21st century.
After a dozen years on the Corporation, Robert ‘Bob’ D. Reischauer ’63 will retire from his post as the Corporation’s senior fellow as he hits a term limit that was the cornerstone of sweeping reforms that he helped implement over the past several years. Intellectual property lawyer William F. Lee ’72, in his fourth year on the board, will take the helm as senior fellow in July 2014.
Reischauer will step down from a very different Corporation than the one that he entered, and will do so with Robert E. Rubin ’60—both of whom were appointed by and close colleagues of former University President Lawrence H. Summers. In the spring of 2010, under then-senior fellow James R. Houghton ’58, the governing body launched an internal review of its policies in response to criticism that it was disconnected from the community and excessively secretive. The reforms entailed increasing member size from seven to 13, limiting six-year terms to two in number, and instituting subcommittees on specific areas such as finance, governance, facilities and capital planning.
Building upon the foundation of the review process set up by Houghton, who served on the Corporation for 15 years, Reischauer is largely credited for working with other members of the governing body and University President Drew G. Faust to make it more open and available to students, faculty, and alumni, and to “incorporate their views in our thought process,” in the words of University Treasurer James F. Rothenberg ’68.
“[Reischauer’s] legacy, as the senior fellow who did so much to shape and implement our recent governance reforms, will carry on for decades ahead,” Faust, who also sits on the Corporation, said after the announcement of Reischauer’s retirement.
That legacy, which Lee seems poised to continue despite representing a much different generation of Harvard alumni, also defines the role of senior fellow as a soundboard for the president, rather than a forceful driver of University policy.
After spending his early years living a stone’s throw from Harvard Yard at the end of Divinity Avenue—now the location of the University Herbaria—Reischauer’s affiliation with Harvard began at birth. His father, Edwin O. Reischauer, a Harvard professor in Japanese studies and former U.S. ambassador to Japan, carved the Reischauer family’s place at Harvard in stone when the University’s Institute for Japanese Studies was named in his honor.
Elected in 1996 to the Board of Overseers, the University’s other governing board for which he served a six-year term, the younger Reischauer served as director of the Congressional Budget Office and worked with Summers at the CBO. Reischauer began his term on the Corporation in 2002, and his years of service to the University made him a natural choice for senior fellow when Houghton retired.
Houghton recounts the process of the senior fellow’s appointment as something that “sort of happens.”
“It’s the fact you’ve been there the longest,” Houghton says of the “smooth” transition from him to Reischauer.
Though many also see Lee as a natural choice for the job, he differs notably from Reischauer in both his personal and professional background. While Reischauer grew up with strong Harvard ties, Lee says that he and his brothers, who also attended Harvard, could especially appreciate the opportunities it gave them, with parents “who got off the boat in 1948 without a penny to their name.”