The First Year as a Provost

It's been one year, one month and five days since Jerry R. Green took office as Harvard's first provost since World War II. But who's counting?

Provost Jerry R. Green may still have his name, but don't dare call him a greenhorn.

On Sunday, August 1, Green marked thirteen months in the office he was named to in March 1992.

Any top administrative role at Harvard, land of decentralization and sprawl, comes with its own complex set of difficulties. Green's task, however, had an added wrinkle. As Harvard's first provost since World War II, Green had to first fully define his role before he could adequately perform it.

Over the past year, the Wells professor of political economy has dealt with academic planning, information technology, domestic partner benefits and visiting committees, among other matters. He has offered opinions on everything from the Presidential race (he voted for Clinton) to the grade inflation controversy in the spring (he offered what was at the time the strongest administrative criticism of remarks made by Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield '53).


In doing so, he has managed to establish a firm place for himself in Mass Hall among the president, the vice-presidents and the host of others that make up Harvard's central administration--to the point where he is now seeking an associate provost to make his life a bit easier. Like it or not, Harvard is now a University with a provost.

Academic Planning

When President Neil L. Rudenstine officially assumed his role in mid-1991, he was faced with two major tasks--organizing a University-wide academic planning process to organize a University-wide capital campaign. Both were unprecedented in University history.

So, in retrospect, it is not too surprising that this former provost of Princeton announced in October 1991 that he was seeking a provost, an office which had been dormant since before Rudenstine himself was in college.

About 40 names were seriously considered before a final candidate was chosen. On March 5, 1992, Rudenstine officially announced that Green had been elevated to the second-ranked administrative post at the University.

"This is a very unusual structuring of the provost's office...But my own sense is that I'll be extremely surprised if we find that we could really operate effectively as well as we would like to without it," Rudenstine says. "If you are going to deal with either straight academic matters that cross colleges or academic support things such as information've got to have someone who understands it from the academic side who's also willing to take on the administrative tasks."

Green had some administrative experience--he was the chair of a committee appointed by to study the effects of the new retirement law on the University faculty. But he admits that his past experience did not mean he had no fears about adjusting to his position--and about others adjusting to his position as well.

"I was warmly received by all the faculty and that says something for Harvard because Harvard is a place where the Faculty traditionally guarded their independence and here there's another academic officer in central administration," Green says. "There could have been some resistance but there wasn't."

Now, approximately a year and a half later after that fateful March announcement, Green has had a chance to fully move into his Massachusetts Hall office (down the hall from Rudenstine's) and both the academic planning process and the capital campaign have moved up from serious ideas to gradually-emerging blueprints for the University's future.

"It was something of a bet that the kind of effort to bring together different groups of people to work out common academic or other sorts of problems would prove substantive enough to be not just engaging but to actually do something," Rudenstine says. "It takes someone who has both academic and administrative capacity... I think Jerry has really done splendidly."