Consider Students


DEREK BOK must be pretty pleased with himself. From his point of view, the main thing to watch out for in picking a successor to Dean of the Faculty Henry Rosovsky was not picking another Henry Rosovsky. This is not to denigrate the outgoing dean, whose 11-year tenure will surely be looked upon as a success in dealing with the gut issues of the job--from straightening out the Faculty's finances to making strong Faculty appointments to revitalizing the undergraduate curriculum. But just as you don't "replace" Tom Landry as coach of the Dallas Cowboys, you don't replace someone like Rosovsky, who left his own idiosyncratic imprimatur on the Faculty. You go and find someone who will bring an entirely different approach and set of characteristics to the job.

This is precisely what President Bok did in naming economist A. Michael Spence to succeed Rosovsky. The new dean is not a scientist as many in Harvard's laboratories were reportedly urging on Bok. Nor has he taken unusually active role in collective Faculty affairs as some might have expected of a new dean. Rather, at 40, Spence is one of the youngest and, by all accounts, brightest members of the Faculty. He should, simply by dint of not being all that well known, bring a breath of fresh air to University Hall.

Spence uncannily seems to fit all the possible attributes Bok was looking for in filling the job. As an economist, he should be able to maintain the tight-fisted control Rosovsky kept on the budget deficits, which have largely subsided since swelling up to several million dollars in the early 1970s. And Spence's aptitude for computers should serve the Faculty in good stead, as it capitalized on the technology boom that is revolutionizing certain aspects of college education. In his capacity as chairman of the Economics Department. Spence has shown a grasp for the problems of graduate students, who many believe are owed an increase in attention over the next few years. In sum, from Bok's perspective, his is an unusually bold appointments of a professor who brings an unusual range of talents to the job.

From the student perspective, however, the view is considerably more mixed. Since the dean search began last May, it has been clear that President Bok was not going to have much time or inclination to solicit student opinions on this important appointment. Save for a Bok luncheon with a few selected student leaders last fall, the whole affair was entirely excluded from the province of this large Harvard constituency.

The name that emerged from Bok's secret deliberations furthermore is little known to most undergraduates. This is not, of course, a necessary pre-requisite for the job. But Michael Spence has not gained a world-wide reputation for an unusual interest in the affairs of undergraduates, and indeed the little administrative experience he does have--be it running the Ec Department or the University's Ph.D. in business research program--involved mostly graduate students, researchers, and professors. In fact. Spence has not taught an undergraduate course in recent years.


We have no reason to doubt that--as a quick and intelligent learner--Spence will quickly grasp how best to ensure the Core does not unravel, how to keep the House system strong, and how to set an effective policy on sexual harassment--just to name three important student issues. But amidst all the hoopla of the appointment, the integral role and problems of undergraduates might easily be put aside and forgotten, especially for someone who has not had a great deal of contact with them over his tenure here. In his drive to help graduate students and junior faculty--two of his stated intentions--Spence would do well to keep an eye out for one of the least well represented constituencies on campus--undergraduates. It could quickly make him a lot of friends.

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