A Study in Contrasts

When President Neil L. Rudenstine stepped into office last July, the contrast with his predecessor, Derek C., Bok, seemed black and white.

By the end of Bok's 20-year term, many considered the former president, instead, immediately began to foster the image of a down-to-earth populist.

He talks to everybody, and even schedules office hours for students.

To make up for missing a tea with first-year students, he hosted a barbecue, When people write him letters, he writes back.

Even if some of his actions this year were largely symbolic, Rudenstine succeeded in setting a tone of openness and accessibility.


And instead of defending the status quo like Bok often did, Rudenstine spoke of dramatically changing the University's administrative structure to bring it closer together.

Rudenstine argues that the old Harvard principle of "every tub on its own bottom," by which each school raises its own funds and operates independently, must evolve into a more interconnected one," Every tub on each other's bottom," as Rudenstine once put it.

To this end, the new president has launched a University-wide academic planning process, which will lead into a multi-billion dollar fund drive that is scheduled to start in 1993.

Handling Tensions

The difference in the two presidents' styles is most evident in their crisis management techniques.

From condemning anti-Asian slurs to issuing strong statements in support of embattled Law School Dean Robert C. Clark, Rudenstine made his viewpoints heard on a wide range of issues on which Bok might have kept a lower profile.

And in recent months, Rudenstine got personally involved when racial tensions heated up on campus. He began meeting regularly with representatives of minority student groups to try to devise ways of addressing those tensions.

"Clearly on an issue like this, I...shouldn't sit back and do nothing," Rudenstine says.

In a comparable situation a dozen years ago, Bok's approach was limited to the traditional institutional response: name a faculty committee.

Rudenstine does not rule out creating another committee, but he says he concluded from his talks with students that race relations must be addressed on a more continual basis.