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Acting President Carnesale Known for Administrative Skill

Rudenstine Takes Leave

By Elizabeth T. Bangs and Marion B. Gammill

Albert Carnesale, who has worn two hats for several months, has now put on a third: Acting President of Harvard University.

The announcement yesterday that President Neil I. Rudenstine is taking a medical leave of absence has rendered Carnesale, also Dean of the Kennedy School and Provost, the most important figure of the central administration.

Carnesale's somewhat bumpy ride from JFK Street to Massachusetts Hall began last spring. Within a day after the announcement in April that Jerry R. Green would step down as the University's provost, Carnesale's name was on some people's lips as a likely successor.

The personable, seasoned dean of the Kennedy School seemed the perfect replacement for Green, who had come from outside the central administrative structure.

Carnesale was also the savior of the Kennedy School, the dean who brought together a faculty fractured by years of mushrooming growth and lacking of a clear mission. He was a Harvard insider, a successful fund raiser and a tested supporter of Rudenstine's goal of unifying Harvard's schools.

To no one's surprise, Carnesale was made provost, and since July 1, he has been living a dual life as both dean of Harvard's school of government and the University's second-in-command.

"To some extent I'm facing not so much the limitations of there being 24 hours in a day--we all face that--but rather I'm running up against [the fact] that you can't be in two places at the same time," he said in September.

Despite the load, however, Carnesale seemed to hold on to his sense of humor. His provost's desk had three boxes: "In," "Out" and "Too Hard."

So far, it seems that few things have been "too hard" for the administrator.

"You notice my 'Too Hard' box almost never has anything in it," he joked.

And despite the triple role that his new responsibility implies, Carnesale said yesterday that he will not be overwhelmed by the pressure of serving simultaneously as acting president of the university, dean of the Kennedy School and University provost.

Carnesale Himself

The 57-year-old former engineer is a pleasant, slightly self-deprecating man with some resemblance to a healthier-looking Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54-'56 (D-Mass.).

His hobbies include opera, fishing, reading and "walking along the Charles for a few miles a day, dressed even worse than usual."

Recently separated from his wife Janet, he has two children: Keith, an assistant solicitor in Georgia, and Kimberly, who graduated from the College in 1992 and now is a student at the Harvard Business School.

Carnesale is "a great father," Kimberly said, adding that her father made time to meet her for lunch when she was an undergraduate.

The dean's unquestioned gift for leading an academic institution drew Rudenstine to Carnesale, colleagues said.

"Al Carnesale is an enormously able and gifted administrator," IBM Professor of Business and Government Roger B. Porter said last spring.

He brought the Kennedy School closer to the rest of the University and united the disciplines, as well as the faculty and staff, colleagues said.

"He doesn't polarize people," Dean of the Graduate School of Education Jerome T. Murphy said last spring. "He brings them together."

"He has the capacity to make people feel as if their work is important," Murphy added.

Carnesale's own explanation of administrative ability could come out of a textbook for cooperative corporate management.

"When you have faculty, staff and students of the caliber that we're fortunate enough to have, you don't tell them what to do," Carnesale says. "It's your responsibility and obligation to try to convince them that what you're suggesting makes sense and they ought to give it a try."


But Carnesale is good with more than just fragile egos, interviews showed.

Colleagues have said that he is a decisive, articulate thinker who still manages to step on no one's toes.

"He doesn't leave issues open and stirring tension," Pratt Public Service Professor Lewis M. Branscomb said last spring. "He's just awfully good at providing a steady leadership."

That pragmatism might have something to do with Carnesale's academic background, which he makes a point of belittling.

A native of Bronx, N.Y., Carnesale received his bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering from Cooper Union, his master's in nuclear engineering from Drexel University and his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from North Carolina State.

Carnesale says he was not a "serious student" in his undergraduate days.

His career aspirations in engineering changed in graduate school, when he started to focus on government.

It was a trip to Washington, D.C. in the late 1960s that changed his mind about his vocation. Carnesale was in the capital to work on safeguards for the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

"Within a matter of days, I was asked if I would be interested in working on the first strategic arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union," he says. "I thought that it would be interesting even though I knew nothing about foreign policy at the time. And I said, 'Yes,' and it changed my life."

But Carnesale says he missed the university environment. So he returned to North Carolina State, leaving in 1974 to become a professor at the Kennedy School.

Even during his years as a professor, Carnesale was never just an academic. He maintained his ties to Washington, serving as an advisor to every administration since Nixon's.

And by 1981, he had entered the Harvard bureaucracy as the Kennedy School's academic dean, a position he held for the next decade.

Carnesale was named dean of the Kennedy School in 1991, after Price Professor of Politics Robert D. Putnam stepped down.


The acting president has barely had time to finish making renovations to the provost's office, which he inherited less than six months ago.

Carnesale said last May that he would also serve as Rudenstine's advisor and mop-up man--a pronouncement that seems a bit ironic now.

"I should be doing those things which if I did not do them, either President Rudenstine would have to do them or they would go undone," Carnesale says. "My job is to try to be as helpful as I can be to the president in the multitude of responsibilities that he has."

Carnesale has been traveling occasionally this fall to carry out another of the provost's tasks, raising funds and schmoozing potential donors for the ongoing $2.1 billion capital campaign.

As acting president, he will presumably take on even more fundraising duties--an area in which that Carnesale is skilled, Rudenstine said last fall.

"A good deal of what you do [in the capital campaign] is explaining." Rudenstine says. "He's a good explicator and he's been very involved in the process."

'Doesn't Polarize'

Last spring, it seemed that the new provost's most important task was unquestionably to enact the shining Rudenstine vision of a more unified University.

Whether or not Carnesale will be able to carry out this goal as acting president is unclear. But it was his strength at bringing unity that was key to his appointment to the provost's slot.

Carnesale himself said last spring that he was ready for the effort.

"When one speaks of working across disciplines and professions, that's what I do," he says. "That's what most of my professional life has been devoted to."

Carnesale's greatest skill may simply be the ability to pay attention.

"He's very good at listening to you and making you believe you've had some input in his decision making," says Ramsey Professor of Political Economy Richard J. Zeckhauser. "He's a very good listener-reinforcer."

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