President Issues Letter to Harvard Community

Reaffirms Support for Affirmative Action

In a letter to be circulated today throughout the University, President Neil L. Rudenstine summarizes many of Harvard's recent accomplishments and gives a glimpse of some of the challenges which lie ahead this academic year.

The four-page, single-spaced, letter reviews the honors won by Harvard faculty, mentions three recent dean appointments and offers updates on topics ranging from labor relations to research funding.

Perhaps most significantly, Rudenstine strongly reaffirms the University's commitment to affirmative action.

"Our collective variety...represents an essential educational resource. We all learn in invaluable ways from the experience of living and working with people different from ourselves. We need to reaffirm that value, not retreat from it, in years to come," Rudenstine writes.

"We intend to press forward--as we have been doing--with our efforts to keep the Harvard community open and inclusive. For decades such efforts have served our University extraordinarily well."


In a brief telephone interview yesterday afternoon, the president denied that there was any connection between the strong statement on affirmative action and recent published allegations that Harvard's Government Department holds minority graduate school applicants to unreasonably low standards.

"This is something that I try to address every year...with the accent being on the educational value of affirmative action," he said, declining to elaborate further on the allegations about the Government Department. "This was very straightforward."

The letter highlights some of the laurels awarded professors over the past several months. Those mentioned ranged from Higgins Professor of Biochemistry Jack L. Strominger '46 and Professor Don C. Wiley, winners of the prestigious Lasker Awards for medical research, to the Kennedy School's Public Service Professor of Jurisprudence A. Leon Higginbotham, who last month received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

Rudenstine said he thought the beginning of the school year was "a good moment" to write to the Harvard community but that he had wanted to wait for a time when people's volume of incoming mail was waning.

"A lot of things happen in different parts of the University, and everyone can't know what's going on all the time," Rudenstine said in the interview. "I could have gone on for another three pages... but I think that one has to judge the total amount of communications going out when deciding to write a letter such as this."

The president writes that his recent visits to Washington, D.C. left him "especially concerned that the federal budget process over the next few years will be even more difficult than it has been in the current year, and that cuts in domestic discretionary programs will be even deeper and more likely to erode our national investment in research and education."

"Washington will have to be tracked continuously," Rudenstine said in the interview.

Rudenstine writes in the text that in the spirit of disciplined budget constraint, the University's central administration has set a target of 2.5 percent growth in its core budget for 1995-96, "essentially a no-growth budget, when inflation is taken into account." That target was announced by a central administration budget advisory committee last spring.

Rudenstine writes that "more than half" of the University-wide $2.1 billion capital campaign lies ahead, and that a balanced budget for Harvard appears to be in reach, four years after the University ran a $42 million deficit.

"Applications to Harvard College alone have grown by a remarkable 50 percent over the past five years--from about 12,000 to nearly 18,000," he writes.

Rudenstine said he would consider writing similar letters in the future, adding quickly: "as long as it doesn't begin to bore people.