Tough Times for Rudenstine

Recent Incidents of Insensitivity Difficult for President

The honeymoon is over for President Neil L. Rudenstine.

At first glance, the University may have appeared friendly to the new president, especially during his festive installation in October.

But, as recent events have made painfully clear, the cheery exterior the president witnessed at the autumn gala belied a deeply ingrained, troubling problem, one that is wrapped up in a community of difference: Racial tensions continue to rip the University fabric, as students, faculty and administrators draw seemingly uncrossable lines on issues of diversity and insensitivity.

In the last month, Law School Dean Robert C. Clark has been embroiled in controversy over issues of sensitivity to women and minorities. The conservative magazine Peninsula, the Harvard police and The Crimson have also drawn fire for their treatment of Blacks.

And Black-Jewish tensions have flared in recent weeks with a letter to The Crimson from S. Allen Counter, the director of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations.


For Rudenstine, the good times are a distant memory, and the last few weeks in particular, he said in an interview last Friday, have been the toughest and most intense of his presidency.

"Whatever the outward appearances may have been, or whatever the news may have been, there are plenty of events every day that make you go slightly up or slightly down," the

president said.

"But I think the last two or three weeks haveobviously been more intense, and they've beenharder to try to think out what would be fruitfuldirections to take and it's been much moredifficult to know how to help guide events withoutseeming to, in one way or the other, eitherrepudiate or undercut or wrongly undermine, leavealone injure one group or another group, oneindividual or another individual."

Despite his efforts not to undercut any singlegroup, Rudenstine added he can not be "utterlyevenhanded or impartial because there are certainvalues here that are at stake that I feel areimportant to enunciate."

Rudenstine also said he faces the challenge ofachieving a consensus in as large and scattered aninstitution as Harvard. He has begun a series ofmeetings with student groups, faculty andadministrators, attending some of them himself,with an aim to establishing "concrete steps" toimprove Harvard tense race relations.

But there are tough obstacles to the healingprocess, he said.

"In a place this size and this decentralized,it's not always easy even to get the peopletogether, leave alone to have the kind of seriousmeetings I mentioned before and get the outcomeyou want," the president said.

"So in that sense, it's been much tougher thana lot of other things during the year," Rudenstinesaid. "They're intrinsically a lot more difficultissues, and because they involve many, many peopleand very deeply rooted perceptions and forms ofbehavior, they're not easily susceptible tochange."

It is clear that these recent events have donemore than merely gain Rudenstine's attention andconcern. His sentiments seem heartfelt, as if heis personally pained by what he sees.

At a meeting with Undergraduate Council memberslast week, Rudenstine was asked what he haslearned in his first year as president. Hisresponse showed how the facade of applause andcheers that greeted Rudenstine has so quickly anddramatically splintered into pieces.