B-School In Media Spotlight

Talk of Crisis Overshadows Release of Rudenstine Report

Last Friday, President Neil L. Rudenstine released an 83-page, 24,000-word report outlining his vision for leading Harvard into the 21st century.

In provocative, often philosophical terms, the president calls upon his colleagues across the University to come together in a common effort to revitalize Harvard, building on and refining its strengths after decades of expansion.

"Given the centrifugal tendencies of our time--and the extent to which the fabric of so many institutions, systems, and even entire nations has been strained--it is critical that we find ways to foster unity within our diversity," Rudenstine writes.

It's only been a week. But already, there is reason to believe that the Rudenstine vision of fostering unity may be faltering.

Two years in the making, the president's plan of University-wide cooperation is no surprise. Still, at a university with a long history of decentralized financial and curricular leadership--where each of 10 faculties has traditionally been seen as substantially autonomous and independent--many see his vision as bold, even daring.


Now, just one week after it was made public, it's becoming clear why.

Even before the report's release, there weresigns of trouble. Two days earlier, a startlingstory in the Wall Street Journal suggested thatHarvard's Business School is on the verge of aserious crisis.

The Business School, historically the mostindependent division of the University, is widelyacknowledged as playing a critical role indetermining the success or failure of Rudenstine'sgoal of enhanced cooperation. With its large,wealthy and active alumni base, the school is alsoexpected to be a major force in the University'supcoming $2 billion capital campaign.

The Journal story, and several stories thatfollowed on its heels over the last week, havecalled into question how active the BusinessSchool's participation in both those efforts mightbe. Indeed, several observers have questionedwhether the school's dean, from his secure powerbase across the Charles River, is digging in hisheels against the centralizing forces ofMassachusetts Hall.

Citing a presentation the dean, John H.McArthur, made to Rudenstine in June of 1992, theJournal article indicated that McArthur fearsHarvard, the nation's leading business school, isin danger of falling behind the competition.

McArthur's 1992 comments--in which he hintedthat the Business School faced a possiblefinancial crisis and "flounderingmediocrity"--were released to the Yale School ofOrganization and Management as back-groundinformation for a case study of the BusinessSchool.

Indeed, last Thursday, the day before theRudenstine report was made public, McArthurparticipated in an unprecedented seminar at Yalethat put the Business School's alleged problemseven more plainly in view.

The dean's appearance at Yale--a news-worthyevent in itself, because McArthur rarely speaksin public--was all the more unusual because of thenature of the event. Here was arguably the mostpowerful leader in business education--a pioneerof the case study method--inviting M.B.A. studentsat a top competitor to critique Harvard's program.

The irony was not lost on the press, andMcArthur's visit to New York Times.

The next day, Friday, saw the release of theRudenstine report. But that wasn't what everyonewas talking about. That morning, a prominentlyfeatured article in the Journal suggested that theBusiness School was contemplating the creation ofa one-year MBA program, in a desperate effort toraise money.

The story, which cited unnamed sources at theBusiness School, turned out to be inaccurate. Butit did have the effect of drawing the mediaspotlight away from the Rudenstine report, awayfrom the needs of the University, and onto theBusiness School.