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President Bok has said repeatedly that he regards appointments as his single most vital responsibility. He outs in a proportionately large amount of time doing background work for the selection of deans and other administrators.
But the appointment this week of Paul N. Ylvisaker as dean of the Graduate School of Education portends more than a shift in the way Bok will be spending his time. It points up once again that Bok operates on an administrative plane which hardly follows the normal guideposts of academia.
Ylvisaker, an expert in urban affairs, has never had any formal involvement with a school of education. But he has repeatedly proven his administrative ability in government, and he has shown that he can deal successfully with widely different personalities and situations. And that is what Bok looks for in an administrator: experience, tact and proven ability.
Exact experience in the field is unimportant. Bok's theory is to get the best man available, someone who can overcome a lack of familiarity with the demands of the job and run a division of the University smoothly.
This same approach was evident in Bok's choice of Howard Hiatt last month to take Harvard's other open deanship at the School of Public Health. Hiatt comes into that job with no specific experience in public health: most of his research has been on cancer, and by his own admission. Hiatt will have to "devote the coming months to learning."
Again, the crucial qualification was administrative ability in a related field. Hiatt has successfully guided a large medical staff as physician-in-chief at Boston's Beth Israel Hospital, and Bok obviously figures that the transition to the Public Health School can be accomplished with a minimum of difficulty.
The Ed School and the School of Public Health represented two financial problem areas when Bok took over. Apparently the academic precedent of choosing successors from the same field counts for little when Bok gets down to administration.
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