Rosovsky: He'll Make His Mark On Harvard

In recent years students have heard more about deans of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences after they have gone on to bigger things in Washington. Henry Rosovsky, who completes his first year in the job this month, will probably not follow in the footsteps of McGeorge Bundy or John T. Dunlop. But students might hear a lot about Rosovsky around Harvard over the next few years.

Although Rosovsky has made few big waves this year, the steps he has taken, the way he defines his job and, especially, the questions he asks in public offer the prospect of important changes in the undergraduate curriculum. The ways he has chosen to find answers to these far-reaching questions indicate that Rosovsky will have considerable impact and visibility in his tenure as dean.

Rosovsky has devoted this year to learning his job and shaping the administrative apparatus of his office to his own needs, instead of making major policy decisions. He prefers the quiet contemplation of complex issues to the hurly-burly of constant meetings and appointments. Yet the job Rosovsky holds, as it has been defined by his predecessors, is primarily bureaucratic.

Rosovsky is said to be unhappy with the paperwork and the amount of detail his job requires--unlike Dunlop, dean until January 1973, who reveled in the intrigues of exercising power and kept most decisions very close to his vest. Rosovsky doesn't like the constant give-and-take with many different people that such an approach to the job requires. "One of the things that depresses me about this job is feeling like a dentist, with people coming in every half-hour," he said at the beginning of the year.

So Rosovsky has moved to widely delegate his authority to associate deans and the Faculty Council, allowing him more time to concentrate on the broader issues of educational policy, faculty appointments and money.


Rosovsky has already set out a committee to re-examine the whole Harvard undergraduate academic program, which he feels has lost the focus it once had. The committee he will soon select will follow the model of a similar re-examination in 1945, which resulted in a report entitled "General Education in a Free Society." That report, informally called The Redbook, led to the establishment of the General Education program, which colleges all over the country have adopted as a model for their own curriculums.

Since Rosovsky told a Lowell House dinner in February of his intention to form the committee, he has been reticent in discussing the details, saying only that he plans to devote time this summer to outlining an agenda for the committee and appointing its members. Sources almost universally expect that Rosovsky will chair the committee, although he has not yet stated his intention of doing so.

Rosovsky said he no longer sees a consensus among educators and students regarding the goals of undergraduate education. Liberal education has lost much of its meaning at Harvard, Rosovsky says, as General Education courses often merge with departmental offerings. Rosovsky is fond of asking audiences, "Should tap-dancing be given credit?" and answering that "we have lost the capacity to answer such questions because we have no criteria to do so." Within two years the new Redbook committee, he says, should try to reach a new consensus about what undergraduate education should be. Like its predecessor, the new committee's findings could have national significance.

One other subject likely to be examined in great detail is the freshman year, about which the Committee on Undergraduate Education published a long critique earlier this year. That report, authored by Robert J. Kiely, associate dean of the Faculty for undergraduate education, one of Rosovsky's assistants with "line responsibilities," recommends the creation of small core-courses of an interdisciplinary nature, replacing many Gen Ed, language and Expository Writing requirements.

Rosovsky's plan for the Redbook committee grows from the view he holds of his own job. He has two interrelated problems: preserving Harvard's academic standing and keeping it as conducive a place as possible for its professors, while holding a strict line on costs to avoid expanding a projected $1.8 million deficit. Rosovsky has responded by trying to evaluate formerly-accepted assumptions, so that educational criteria can better guide detailed budget and policy decisions.

As the chief academic officer of the University's largest faculty, Rosovsky views his major concern as preserving the quality of the individuals on faculty. He spends more time than other deans advising departments on teaching appointments and on the work of the ad hoc committees which decide who is nominated for tenured Faculty positions.

Balancing Rosovsky's idealism is his training as an economist. He said to an alumni group, "Recently, I have begun to wonder why it is that economists have become so involved in top university administrative posts. Perhaps many of you will think we are not good for much else. But I believe the answer lies in the fact that economists are familiar with the all-important notion of trade-offs!"

As chief financial officer of the Faculty, Rosovsky must oversee the development of a $70 million budget and make trade-offs between the demands of competing departments. In a time of rampant inflation, and sluggish revenues, "to say 'no' and make it stick is much more difficult administratively," Rosovsky says. "Contrary to appearances, I'm really a very tough, and nasty man." But his success at this task, usually a sure way to make enemies, is more a result of his opening up of the process than of his personal nastiness.

Rosovsky's performance in putting together the budget draws virtually unanimous raves. On November 1, Rosovsky released a detailed, 34-page letter to the Faculty describing the budget. Under the Dunlop and previous dynasties, the budget was released in far less detailed form only hours before the mid-November Faculty meeting which considers it. Although everyone's ox got gored this year because of the money squeeze, few ended up in a stampeding mood.

Rosovsky opens his door to all members of the Faculty, as is traditional for the dean. But at the same time, middle-level administrators complain that Rosovsky sometimes delegates them responsibilities without enough accompanying power to back up their decisions, which are almost always appealed to the dean. In the Dunlop era this procedure was acceptable because Dunlop thrived on delicately balancing such conflicting demands personally. Rosovsky, however, makes clear his desire that "people have to perceive that decisions at the lower levels are the ones that count."