In Search of the Real Neil

THE PICTURE was becoming a little clearer. Rudenstine was no longer just a faceless administrator. He was a friendly man who read The New York Times and wore lightly starched shirts. He read the occasional magazine. On at least one occasion, his wife had purchased groceries of an undetermined variety.

And yet, something--perhaps many things--were lacking from this portrait. Further inquiries were of little use. Rudenstine seemed almost entirely unknown in his home neighborhood. I drew a blank at a pizza parlor and a nearby deli. Several florists gave me puzzled looks. A man behind the meat counter of a ritzy grocery store told me he had a photographic memory. It didn't contain any shots of Rudenstine or his wife.

I flashed the picture at a garage across the street from the Mellon Foundation. "You seen this guy? Name's Rudenstine."

A look of knowing suspicion crossed the face in front of me. "You're tryin' to repossess his car," the face's owner drawled. It was clearly about time to give up the search.

Three hours after I began, I had learned no valuable lessons. I had gained precious few insights into Rudenstine's character. The essence of the new president remained a mystery to me, as it does to Harvard.


For 20 years, we have known, more or less, what to expect from the upper echelons of Massachussetts Hall. Political issues have come and gone, but the fundamental character of the University has for the most part remained the same. Some hours after, I looked back at Rudenstine's picture--the same one I had shown to some 30 or 40 shopkeepers over the course of the afternoon--with a feeling of uncertainty. And it seemed that I was staring into the face of the unknown.