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A New Breed of Ivy Presidents


By Emily M. Bernstein

On the same day in 1980 that Vartan Gregorian heard on his car radio that he had not been chosen president of the University of Pennsylvania, he resigned as provost of the institution. Some speculate that he was passed over for the job because he was a history professor with few proven administrative skills, particularly in the area of fundraising.

But Gregorian, who last month was tapped as the new president of Brown University, went on that year to take over the failing New York Public Library. Through skillful publicity efforts and the force of his own personality, he raised the library's endowment from $94 million to $150 million in seven years. In his biggest coup, he attracted a $10 million grant--the largest in the library's history.

But as Gregorian prepares to take the top post at Brown in April, he is rarely referred to as a fundraiser. Instead those who chose him and those who work with him note that he is warm and affable, an Armenian, Beiruteducated scholar passionately interested in Middle Eastern history. To fellow scholars he is known as the man who speaks seven languages and who at the age of 54 has received national teaching awards in three countries.

Gregorian is the third new Ivy League president named in less than two years. Educators and administrators throughout the Ivies say these new leaders at Brown, Dartmouth and Princeton all share similar attributes which differentiate them from the last generation of Ivy League presidents.

These educators say that the new presidents possess not only the administrative abilities that have become a prerequisite for the job in the last two decades, but also a capacity to symbolize the academic ideal.

In response to the campus disturbances of the late 1960s, Ivy educators say search committees began to place a premium on crisis management. The result was that law school deans and those with strong administrative backgrounds and keen negotiating skills fast became the presidential ideal.

President Bok, who is the dean of the Ivy League presidents, perhaps best exemplifies this crisis-manager ideal. With a background in labor law, and a cool and calm demeaner, Bok was called in to restore peace to a campus torn apart in the late 1960s.

That type of president stood in stark contrast with the style of the presidents who came before who were chosen largely to fulfill "the symbolic and ritualistic qualities of the presidency," former president of the University of Pennsylvania Martin Meyerson says.

Bok sees in the selection of the new presidents the continued importance schools place on administrative qualities. "When I look at these men, the striking similarity is that none of them were chosen from individual faculty members," Bok says. "They were all people who had substantial administrative experience at other institutions."

But other educators see in the recent selections at Brown, Dartmouth and Princeton a synthesis of the last century's two main types of Ivy League presidents.

"There are now some presidents who bridge the gap between the worlds of traditional academic values and the policy issues that are increasingly crucial for a university's survival," says Jack H. Shuster, education and public policy professor at Claremont Graduate School and a self-described "president-watcher." He says that this new breed can be called "scholar-practitioners," neither the traditional denizens of the academic world nor the mediators of the legal profession.

"This is a stabler, less social reformist time," says Theodore R. Sizer, director of Brown University's Coalition of Essential Schools. "We don't have labor lawyers appointed as presidents. When Derek Bok took over a very tense campus, it was very different than Brown in 1988."

Brown's New Leader

And the new leader of Brown is very different from a labor lawyer. Gregorian left Iran in 1956 and received his bachelor's degree and Ph.D. from Stanford University, where he at one point shaved his head in order to curtail his social life and force himself to study harder.

After teaching history throughout the country, Gregorian landed at the University of Pennsylvania in 1972. He was extremely well-liked by students and colleagues alike, according to newly-appointed Dartmouth President James O. Freedman '57, who was dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School at the time. In his position as the first dean of the school's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Gregorian was known for his work in faculty recruitment and minority placement.

Gregorian applied similar intensity, laced with more than a touch of the dramatic, to his work at the New York Public Library. In an effort to lift the library's morale, he once took on a morning stint in the reference room, only to forget how to spell Flaubert's name when asked by an eager caller. On the practical side, Gregorian allied himself with New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch in order to receive larger annual grants.

In taking the helm at Brown, he will face yet another challenge. The school, which has the smallest endowment in the Ivy League, also has a reputation for offering an education without requirements and for being popular while providing little structure. Educators and colleagues say Gregorian will have to increase the endowment in order to attract the kind of faculty and students the school needs to improve its image.

But observers say that Gregorian's ability to make academia seem exciting and important will be of equal help in his efforts to bring talented scholars to the Providence, R.I., campus.

The growing importance of faculty recruitment is one of the major factors behind the rise of the "scholar-practitioner" president, Ivy educators say. As a large proportion of college and university professors retire, and a smaller proportion of top undergraduates pursue academic careers, the competition for top junior faculty members will increase tremendously in the next decade.

"Faculty recruitment is the key to the quality and relative permanence--in an impermanent world--of many colleges and universities," says Ford Professor of Social Sciences Emeritus David Riesman '31, who has served on several universities' search committees. "That implies a president who is intelligent, learned, able to engage in discussions of which fields should be emphasized."

Myerson says that universities must work to encourge undergraduates--particularly minorities--to pursue academic careers. "I don't know if this problem is high on the list of trustees choosing a new president, but it will certainly be higher in the coming years," he says.

In addition to recruiting new talent, however, scholars and administrators say that the new presidents must make a point of making academic life fulfilling for current faculty members.

At Dartmouth in particular, Freedman faces the task of invigorating a somewhat disenchanted faculty and defining the intellectual mission of the school. Freedman's predecessor, David T. MacLaughlin, announced his resignation six months after the faculty wrote a report criticizing his five-year presidential term.

A businessman with no academic experience, MacLaughlin proved unable to mediate a dispute between divestment activists and their opponents on a campus conservative journal. Some members of the Dartmouth Review razed the shanties erected by the anti-aparthied activists shortly before the school's Winter Carnival. The result was an increase in campus racial tensions and a crisis in confidence that led one professor to say at a faculty meeting that MacLaughlin had made Dartmouth "the laughingstock of the Ivy League."

As one way of encouraging the faculty, Freedman, the former president of the University of Iowa, has made a point of naming scholars to the school's board of trustees. And in a well-publicized speech, Freedman criticized the Dartmouth Review for representing values antithetical to Dartmouth's.

"I've known president Gregorian for 10 years and [newly-appointed Princeton President Harold] Shapiro for six, and both are deeply commited to the nurturing of the brightest minds in arts and sciences for academia," Freedman says. "Certainly that's one of my major themes here at Dartmouth-promoting more of an understanding and interest in academic fields."

Shapiro was formerly the president of the University of Michigan, and last year became Princeton's first Jewish president. From the outset, he began to exploit the symbolic role a university president can play. When he arrived, he invited all faculty and staff members in the university to attend his inaugural party, rather than following the traditional format of an invitation-only, black-tie event.

At the time of the Princeton search, James A. Henderson, chairman of the search committee, said his board was seeking someone who could lead the school toward academic excellence, a leader who could address the "twin targets," he said. "One is a quality undergraduate educational experience. The second is someone who understands world-class quality research."

Shapiro, who received his doctoral degree at Princeton, pursued a successful academic career in economics, culminating in the chairmanship of the economics department at the University of Michigan. But he put his administrative prowess to the test when he helped the university weather a financial crisis the state of Michigan went through in the early 1980s.

"He certainly has an entrepeneurial capability," Shuster says. "He could have made departments across the board suffer the costs of the state's economic cuts. But the choice he made instead was a much more dramatic, tougher decision, that is to pick out parts of the university that would bear the brunt and parts that would remain strong."

Shuster points out, however, that Princeton, which is not undergoing the same kind of financial turmoil that Michigan endured, probably was attracted to the academic rather than the entrepeneurial side of Shapiro's character.

The multiple attributes of Shapiro, Freedman and Gregorian will help them to deal with a changing field of issues, such as the crisis of faculty recruitment, scholars and administrators say. But they add that despite the increased complexity and changes in emphasis, the intrinsic issues of the job are constant. "There may be pressure over time, but the basic questions are enduring," Sizer says. "They are financial and academic, and they ultimately lead to decisions about the movement of scholarship in the country."

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