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Why Rudenstine Wants a Provost

By Philip P. Pan

When Derek C. Bok took office in 1971, he seriously considered appointing a provost. Eventually, Bok decided against it, fearing that it might simply create an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.

Now, 20 years later, Bok says that the University has changed so dramatically that creating the office is probably a very good idea.

"The job grows larger as the University grows larger," Bok says of his duties as president. "Probably if I hadn't been obviously moving toward retirement, I might well have created a provost for that reason a few years ago."

Instead, the 60-year-old administrator decided to leave the difficult task to his successor. And now President-designate Neil L. Rudenstine seems ready to accept that challenge.

With the search for a dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences complete, the most pressing item on the Rudenstine agenda is probably the provost issue.

Although he indicated early on that he favored appointing a provost, Rudenstine has been moving forward cautiously. He wants to make sure the University community supports the idea, and he wants to refine his concept of what the provost's role would be.

The former Princeton provost says many people inside the University have already given the idea a favorable reception.

"I've managed to talk to lots of, lots of people informally including many of the deans, vice presidents and faculty members. Some people have written me on their own initiative," he says. "And I would say that lots of people with whom I've talked felt that it was not only a good idea but really a very important idea."

The president-designate already wrote and selectively distributed a draft of a long memorandum analyzing the University's need for a provost. After getting the reaction of his deans and vice presidents, Rudenstine plans to distribute the document to the entire Harvard community.

In the paper, Rudenstine explains why he thinks creating the office of provost is an important thing to do. He also describes different ways that the office could be structured and suggests a model for Harvard.

Although the memorandum is still in draft form and has not been released to the public, Rudenstine plans to distribute it widely and invite suggestions from as many people in the University as possible.

Rudenstine says that he would like to decide in principle whether to go forward with the provost idea by the end of June.

Too Much Work

One of the strongest arguments for creating the provostship is that the University has grown to the point that the president has too much work to do.

Especially with a $2 billion plus capital campaign looming in the future, the president will have neither the time nor the energy to do the job adequately. Another University-wide administrator theoretically would help alleviate that burden.

"It is a bigger job now than when I came in," says Bok. "You put all that together and what you get is that there is simply a larger volume of activities for people at that sort of supra-faculty level to deal with, and so you need another person to share the load."

Unlike at most schools Harvard's size, the president here is the only University-wide academic administrator and the only academic with a position that oversees the deans.

And most officials agree that Harvard's administrative organization needs reworking.

"My sense is that there is a general recognition that we have to change the administrative structure," says Vice President and General Counsel Daniel Steiner '54. "I don't think there is going to be any significant opposition from any of the deans of the faculties, who theoretically might be opposed."

Different Models

If Rudenstine decides to move forward with plans to appoint a provost, he will have to choose from several different prevalent models of the office.

At some schools, the provost serves in a controls access to the president. At other schools, the provost is a powerful academic administrator with full responsibility for the graduate schools. collaboration.

At Stanford University, the president and provost generally divide responsibilities roughly on an external-internal basis. In addition, deans at Stanford serve more as academic administrators and much less as fundraisers.

But officials speculate that Rudenstine will feel most comfortable with a structure similar to that of Princeton University--where he was once provost. There, the provost works closely with the president and serves as a deputy president or alter ego.

In such an arrangement, the provost would not be part of any rigid hierarchy. Instead, officials predict, Rudenstine will work with a team of administrators.

"I doubt very much that Neil is the sort of person who would accept a rigid hierarchy where no one can see Neil who hasn't first gone to the provost," says Bok. "The provost and the president can serve as a kind of informal team, dividing responsibilities as circumstances seem to warrant."

Connective Tissue

Rudenstine sees the provostship as a fundamental part of his vision for the University, a vision not of centralization but of integration and collaboration.

The University is now so decentralized that there is little of what Rudenstine calls "connective tissue" between the separate schools. As a result, there is little capacity for joint academic planning between the various faculties.

"Fundamentally, I think the job is one that tries to think laterally across the institution," says Rudenstine. "The provost office I think of primarily as an intellectual academic office that would be very clearly working in close partnership with the president. But the main job would be to try to see how one could stitch together the pieces, how to get the whole to operate more collaboratively as a whole across schools."

Rudenstine wants the University to equal more than the sum of its parts, and he wants the separate schools to see themselves as integral parts of a coherent whole. And he sees the provost as one of the crucial links that will make this possible.

For example, if the Kennedy School of Government, the Graduate School of Education, the Business School and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences wanted to work together on a project, such as improving primary education, it would be the office of the provost that gets them together to jointly think and work coherently.

"It would be this lateral function that would be important. It's the University-wide perspective and the capacity to think, plan and move the institution that way rather than within the context and confines of each separate school," Rudenstine says.

And as more academic fields overlap and more activities emerge that require cooperation among the faculties, that function becomes more and more important for the University.

As things stand now, that function would fall to the president. But the president has so many other things to do, that type of collaborative activity ultimately suffers.

"You need somebody with an academic back-ground who can, in a sense, preside of over the deans and try to bring that collaboration into being and watch over it after it starts," says Bok.

Finding the Provost

Rudenstine is also welcoming advice from the University community about how to conduct a search for a provost.

"Quite honestly, I don't really know what to do about a process at this point because if you even begin to think about having an advisory group that was even remotely representative of the University as a whole, you would have more people in the room than could conceivably conduct anything," says Rudenstine.

Officials say the provost probably would have to be an able academic with substantial knowledge or experience with Harvard. And, of course, Rudenstine would want someone with whom he could work comfortably.

"I have a feeling the provost is a highly personal appointment," says Geyser University Professor Henry Rosovsky. "The president has to work out a particular style and development of the post."

And while speculation about who Rudenstine might be considering has been limited, officials are confident that there are qualified candidates available.

"Someone like Neil Rudenstine doesn't create a job like this without being fairly certain that someone's out there to fill it. I suspect, especially because he is so widely acquainted with the academic world, that he knows that there are people out there," says Steiner.

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