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In case you haven't met him, he's the one standing in the corner in the simple black suit with the simple thin tic. His hair seems a little grayer than the pictures, but the curling side-burns over the car and that lock of hair which always hangs out of the pack over the forehead give him away. Notice the chin, the forthright chin of a politician who doesn't know enough to pull it back in before they knock it off. He's a dead ringer for a politician, a liberal politician like Hal Holbrook in "The Senator," and the term would be more widely used if it weren't considered gauche in the academic community.
By the end of Commencement day, after the handshaking and congratulations, that same chin will have fallen in and begun to take on the connotations of another politician, Richard Nixon-sobering, bedraggled, absorbed in its five o'clock shadow. The sunken eyes will recede a little deeper, but the straight-on gaze that says "Tell me your story" will remain as will the glittering beam of light that comes from some far off edge of the room and has lodged itself in this man's eyes.
It's unlikely you'll ever find this politician perched atop his limousine raising twisted fingers to the cheering multitudes. It's lucky you noticed him at all over in his corner.
If it weren't for The Office, he'd have left after the morning ceremony and gone back to Belmont to do some gardening or to find a group of friends at the Law School where the corners wouldn't seem so comforting. But The Office and The Job dictated he be here today, not to do anything in particular, but to be here so you too can take a look, ask your questions, shake his hand, tell him your complaints.
You'll like him when you meet him. He's candid, concerned.... Oh, but of course you must have met him. There hasn't been a sherry party he's missed. He's Derek C. Bok, he's The Answer, The Savior, The Lucky Ticket, The Academy's Messiah. He's The New President-"and a better gentleman," they say in Harvard clubs around the country, "A nicer guy," they say in the Dillon Field locker rooms, "A cooler head," they say in the Adams House dining room, "a more well-considered selection," they say in the Faculty club, you just couldn't find.
Five men spent nine months picking Derek Bok from the array of contestants and, by their own admissions, there wasn't even a first runner-up. He won prizes in every category-talent congeniality, primary academic commitment, administration, scholarship, student rapport. He's even supposed to be a close friend of Kingman Brewster. His name bubbled forth from an original list of 1200 people, and not just people but eminences, names, People. John Gardner, Elliot Richardson, Mac Bundy, John Lindsay, step aside, meet Derek C. Bok, Harvard's answer to the question that's on everybody's lips: "My God, What next?"
It was a presidential search that had been unprecedented in the history of any American college and certainly will never again be repeated at Harvard. The time involved was enormous, upwards of 30 to 40 hours a week for Francis H. Burr, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation charged with finding President Pusey's successor. The total cost, including mailing for 203,000 letters soliciting suggestions and air travel for five fellows as they crossed the country meeting some 100 to 200 university administrators, ran over $40,000.
At times the search seemed more like a Gallup poll than a selection process. At times, it required the delicate balancing of pressure groups with all five Corporation members fanning out through the College to assure everyone from the Faculty Council to the Lowell House Bell-ringers that their voice would not be overlooked. And at other times, late in November and during the first two weeks of December, the search proved to be just those five men, sitting over six or seven folders of letters, profiles, interview notes, and assorted data sheets, debating whether it was really true-after all that work-that Derek Bok was the unanimous choice of every man in the room, and apparently two-thirds of trose they had seen in Harvard.
Friends have asked whether the decision had been a foregone conclusion all along; more specifically, whether the extensive consultations and famous secret lists of 69 and then 23 final candidates were just a sham to cover up the fact that the final decision did indeed rest solely with the Corporation. The decision, one can say, conclusively was definitely not a foregone conclusion and the consultations did set definite limits on the range of candidates which the Corporation could in good conscience consider. But the questions of these friends raise the possibility that the search might have had a dual purpose-both to choose a candidate and something else, a little more sinister in some eyes, like preparing the way for that choice. Indeed, sinister or not, it's true.
Troubled by the obvious administrative failures of the Harvard strike in 1969, and divided in subsequent years not only over what had happened but what was happening to Harvard, the University probably was incapable a year ago of choosing an adequate replacement for retiring President Pusey. A week after Pusey resigned in February, 1970, the Faculty overwhelmingly passed a resolution challenging the traditional Corporation prerogative to select presidential successors and asking for a University-wide search committee including students, faculty and alumni. Other faculties followed suit, as did student committees and some alumni groups. Few could tell at the time whether these were the last rumblings of discontent or the start of a new wave of protests against the highest level of administration. In either case, most members of the Corporation clearly saw that not only was its credibility sorely lacking but tart the Presidency selection could easily become the focus for every battle-large and small-that had festered in the University since the Strike. For too long Harvard had seemed a place in limbo. The Faculty restructured itself, but as one professor active
in the changes then commented. "We just don't know what direction the changes will take until we get a new man in the presidency." Students who had successfully made Pusey a target for their grievances in 1969 could not find it in them to kick the President one more time when he had already promised to go, so they also waited cautiously to see just what effect their protests would have. Alumni who had a more long term perspective on the Pusey years were more conscious of the financial success that Pusey had been in the Fifties and feared, in the intense reaction to Pusey's later years, that fund-raising and alumni relations might be overlooked.
Everyone looked to the Corporation for The Answer to whatever grievance or key problem they saw, and as Francis Burr commented after the choice had been made. "We really had two problems. First to get the best man possible for the job, and second to make people believe that they were actually involved in the process. I think we succeeded on the first and hopefully on the second."
There was always the chance that the choice of a new president could turn out to be yet another battle-ground or perhaps a new kind of peace table. Over the summer, when the news leaked out that John Gardner and S. I. Hayakawa led the tally of suggestions from the Spring letters of inquiry, the ballot-box psychology started creeping in, but was quickly squelched by long rounds of meetings and interviews between Corporation members and student-faculty groups. Corporation members assured the groups that the search would be more than a popularity poll among letter writing alumni, ant most left the meetings confident that the choice was in good hands. The Fall meetings kept Corporation members running on their brief weekends in Cambridge, running like men who had been given nine months to come up with an answer to a question that no person or group could adequately phrase: Who will best reflect all of the concerns, ambitions, fears, doubts, and talents of the multi-dimensional Harvard community?
Even the criterion on which to select a president was in question. Did Harvard need a man whom the faculties could embrace as a compatriot (many professors had sent letters critical of Pusey's inadequate credentials as a scholar)? Or did Harvard need a man who, though not a scholar, could be an administrator bringing external order and perspective to the ingrown tendencies of Harvard academia? Should Harvard choose a man on his ability to handle specific problems-curriculum reform, financial crises, dwindling faith in scholarship, even merger debates? Or should it choose a man who had little experience with the pressing problems but seemed more oriented toward handling long range questions or towards absorbing unanticipated situations quickly and efficiently?
These were the questions that arose in meeting after meeting during the Fall. Most often they were raised abstractly and discussed in abstract terms. Corporation members warily avoided specific references to the expertise of individual candidates since so many (over one-third of the list of 69) were members of the Harvard faculty. And so the questions quietly made the rounds of presidential discussions and not surprisingly sobered many of the most vehement student and Faculty rebels into quiescence. By December, the University talked of making its choice not between Hayawaka and Gardner, but John T. Dunlop, Dean of the Faculty, and Bok-a choice which, since Bok and Dunlop had similar backgrounds in administration and labor law (they co-authored a book), was like choosing flavors between Chocolate and Chocolate Chip.
As in the case with so many presidential appointments, Bok's selection became the focus for two different questions-what is an ideal president? and who is an ideal president? By speaking publicly to the first, the Corporation members remained free to discuss the second amongst themselves.
They entered the month of December with a list of 23 finalists for the job, but even as that list was creeping into national print after the CRIMSON broke it, three of the five Corporation members had already decided on Bok and the other two were just days away from coming around. Burr said later that, by that time, there was nothing new to be said on the subject, and most of his colleagues agreed. The only question by mid-December was timing, and peripherally, how the hell to keep the newspapers from blowing the story before the formalities were concluded.
The month lag between the decision and the announcement had a curious effect on the eventual reception Bok received. After such a long, complicated, and often boring search procedure (The Atlantic Magazine appropriately called it "a model" for presidential searches on other campuses) oriented publicly toward finding the ideal man, people did indeed begin to believe that whoever was chosen must necessarily be ideal. The final list of 23 was greeted with a sigh of relief for the number of names which had been dropped from the previous larger list, and the impression of conciliation lingered for a month as people waited for the final announcement. Among the 23, there were two obvious front-runners-Bok and Dunlop-and a third "outside candidate" (as media men put it when they chit-chatted over the latest.) The outside candidate was Donald Kennedy, professor of Biology at Stanford and member of the Board of Overseers, who had all of the requisite credentials, a small following among selected Overseers, but did not come from inside Harvard-a fact which, because Harvard rather provincially thinks itself a special breed of animal, worked against his choice. For many the Bok-Dunlop choice was a matter of individual taste, largely dependant on the age differential of some 15 years. For others, it was a crucial testof Harvard's willingness to choose now blood (Bok) over old administrative types (Dunlop now sits on every important committee in the Faculty and numerous unimportant ones.)
Having defined the post abstractly, the Corporation had managed to out line its conception of the answer to all of Harvard's problems. Their selection of Bok simply gave a flesh and blood example of what they had been talking about for nine months. Both Bok and Dunlop fit exactly the abstract definitions of ideal. Only the tone of that definition was lacking. Harvard had changed, and the post needed a man who represented change. Dunlop did not.
And so, without making any commitments, Bok has become the personification of The Answer. "What next?" they will ask, and Derek Bok will emerge next year from his corner, doff his hat, and rather apologetically admit "me." He has no choice. He's Derek Bok, The Answer.
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