Precisely at nine o'clock every morning a trim but stooped figure enters the Wigglesworth Gate and proceeds towards the west end of the Yard. Now and then the stroller stops to examine a shrub or gaze speculatively at one of the old buildings, and passers-by can detect bits of conversation that pass between the stroller and some invisible colleague. Indeed, at certain points, the figure seems to stop and engage in lengthy discourse with himself, ending abruptly with a nod of decision and a hurried resumption of his path toward Lehman Hall. The early morning boulevardier is Aldrich Durant, Business Manager of the University and his invisible colleague might well be the spiritual embodiment of the Harvard Corporation, which has saddled this shrewd Yankee with a thankless job that has often caused him agitation of the soul.
To the average undergraduate, the business manager of the University is a combination of March 15th and a finance company, with added shades of Uriah Heep. In the case of the present business manager, this picture is not accurate and less than fair. For in a postwar confusion that has the veteran student in a tight economic squeeze, Aldrich Durant is forced to voice, administer, and often defend unpopular fiscal policies that stem from the sacrosanct provinces of Harvard's Olympian body, the Corporation. Most of the recent rent and board increases were settled in the semi-monthly meetings of the Corporation, meetings at which all outsiders, from Dean to doorman, are barred. Durant must accept the law as it comes down from the mountain and administer it for the mere mortals of the University.
But the business manager of a plant as large and varied as that of a great university must take matters like Corporations and student reactions as a routine part of his job. Moreover, the greatest measure of his efforts goes unnoticed by students and faculty alike. The precious meat for the dining halls, hot water for the Houses, the fire in Thayer, the repair to Memorial Hall, and the installing of sanitary facilities for the veterans' housing units-all fall within the daily scope of his activities. In all of these Durant is the perfect Yankee, shrewd and tight-lipped, but eminently fair. From his office in Lehman Hall the building and maintenance services that employ 1500 men and women are controlled with a canny eye towards thrift and an instinctive conservatism that marks an administrative officer of Harvard University.
This conservatism conceals a personal history flavored with the dash of foreign engineering ventures. Trained as an engineer ('02), Durant received his degree and spent the next year in private enterprise. Between 1911 and '30, Durant was intermittently occupied with the construction of harbor works in Cuba, bridges in Paraguay and the mammoth International Telegram and Telephone exchange in Madrid. In 1934 he left a post as supervisor of public works for the State of New York to accept a surprise offer as Business Manager of Harvard, a post created for him.
Though his present duties lack the glamour of his early ventures, Durant has found the last 12 years something less than serene. Fairly or not, he has received a bad press, now over the curtailment of interhouse privileges, and again in connection with perpetually rising food and rent rates. Durant has been faced with defending this to a student bodyfully mindful of the University's tremendous endowment. As yet the students are not convinced. And then there is the independent union of Harvard employees, moderate and cooperative, but full of potentialities.
In face of these hazards, Durant manages to maintain a quiet reserve that is the mark of the successful down-east trader. Across the desk he is deliberate and exceedingly mild in mien and expression. This softness of speech must not be taken for timidity, as a generation of Crimson candidates will testify. But Durant is no legendary tyro out of the Copey mold. Rather he is a businessman-engineer working at the earth-bound business of maintaining Harvard's wealth of real facilities.
Droves of veteran students will put a new strain on these facilities during the next four years. Durant is frankly anxious about this period of overerowdedness, and even the Corporation seems aware of the problem. And while the Corporation consults no one, Durant will consult with Durant until a sound, hard-headed, and thoroughly safe solution is reached.