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The First Year as a Provost

By Marion B. Gammill

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 technology...you'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."

Rudenstine said Green has made it possible for the administration to complete projects that could not have been accomplished otherwise--including, apparently, taking a break.

Last month, Rudenstine and his wife Angelica traveled to the British Isles for what Rudenstine describes as their first real vacation since he became president. While everything from Stonehenge to family was on the agenda, one thing was not--the capital campaign. "I did not ask anybody for money and I did not look for anybody to ask for money," Rudenstine says.

Green, on the other hand, spent a few weekends in New York on what he described as fundraising trips, talking with alumni who are viewed as potential donors--one of the special benefits of being the second-ranked administrator at the richest University in the world.

The campaign is expected to kick off this spring, and the academic planning process, according to Green and Rudenstine, is being adjusted and developed--much like the concept of the provost's office itself.

Later In The Program

Green's part in the academic planning and capital campaign process are only one element of his administrative role. A typical interview with the provost contains questions on everything from race relations at Harvard to retirement law to the University endowment--and he manages to provide an answer to most questions.

Green was the chair of a committee which recommended this spring that the University offer health coverage to domestic partners of University employees, and was involved in protracted negotiations with the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers over the union's new contract last year.

His role in Harvard's complex labor-management dance was not without its tense spots. At one point, he accused the union of spreading "disinformation." At another point, a source close to the committee on domestic partner benefits grumbled that Green "had a lot to learn" about the subject. But in the end, the union had a contract and the domestic partners had their health benefits, in arrangements with which all sides said they were pleased.

Other areas of Green's efforts have been somewhat less strained. He is the head of the standing committee on visiting committees, groups of outside experts which periodically examine various aspects of the University. The committee is currently putting the finishing touches on a report that will suggest some changes in the visiting committee system.

Green was also instrumental in developing the new environmental sciences and public policy concentration that will be available for undergraduates this fall.

And Green has been a key figure in managing the University's progress in the area of information technology, a fast-growing field in recent years.

His involvement with science-related matters has gone far beyond computers, however.

Green says his favorite day as provost was not been spent schmoozing with foreign leaders or developing ground-breaking new policy.

"The most interesting day I've spent all year was the day that I took the first-year curriculum in the M.D. program and made believe I was an M.D. student," Green says. "They've done a beautiful job. This hands-on case study instruction integrated into the rest of the medical education...I was prepared for it to be good, but it was very, very good."

The Medical School, says Green, has been the source of many surprises. "I mean, I knew about the Medical School, but until you see it in action, it's a little hard to realize how complicated a place it is and how large it is," he says. "I have a tremendous admiration for (Medical School) Dean Tosteson, for what he's done."

Green denies that his new-found affinity for the sciences has caused him to regret his career path. "I'm very happy with economics," he says.

But he adds that he is hoping that the associate provost candidate that is eventually chosen has expertise in at least on area of the sciences.

Of course, he has to find an associate provost first. Originally, Green had said the role would be officially filled on July 1, the anniversary of his appointment. But now the deadline has been stretched to the end of the summer.

The reason? Green says the first search failed to find a candidate that fit the needs of an associate provost. Perhaps like the provost's role, the associate provost position is having its parameters defined by the needs of the central administration.

For the most part, though, Green seems to have weathered his move to Mass Hall with equanimity.

"It's an interesting change. I had been a professor for 22 years. I can't say it was time to change, but I'm happy with the change," he says. "Overall I would say it has been a good year."

It takes someone who has both academic and administrative capacity...I think Jerry has really done splendidly. President Neil L. Rudenstine

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