Rudenstine: Round 2

On November 28, 1994, the 'severely fatigued' president took a leave of absence. A year later, he's trying to do even more--by doing less.

It was a move that rocked the University, shocked the academic community--and even landed Harvard's top official on the cover of a national news magazine.

Indeed, President Neil L. Rudenstine's decision a year ago this week to take a leave of absence for "severe fatigue and exhaustion" was more than an ordinary academic sabbatical. It turned Rudenstine's nascent presidency on its head.

That Rudenstine had burned himself out after just 40 months as president indicated to some that he needed to change his leadership style, and promptly.

A year later, according to Rudenstine and his associates, the change has begun to happen.


Administrators and deans who work closely with Rudenstine also say that he is appearing more energetic than he did last fall. Indeed, Rudenstine himself has said that the decision to take the leave was "the right judgment," both for himself and for the University.

The Fall

The first word of Rudenstine's leave came in a tersely worded statement from the Harvard Corporation on the afternoon of November 28, 1994.

The release was accompanied by a brief statement from Dean of the Medical School Daniel C. Tosteson '44, who served as Rudenstine's medical spokesperson.

"He is suffering from severe fatigue and exhaustion of unknown origin," Tosteson's statement read. "When the results of these studies are available, a more certain prognosis will be possible. It is likely that the president will be on leave for a matter of weeks or longer."

University officials described the statement as the full extent of information available on the president's condition.

Later that afternoon, Provost Albert Carnesale--who was appointed acting president in Rudenstine's absence--held a tense 15-minute press conference in the reading room of the Faculty Club.

There, Carnesale referred all medical questions to Tosteson, although he said that all medical tests were being conducted on an outpatient basis.

"He's not bed-ridden," Carnesale said. "He's not hooked up to anything. What he is is tired.... [The absence] is as close as one can get to an order from his physicians."

University officials maintained that no single incident led to Rudenstine's exhaustion, although the leave itself, sources have said, was prompted by the fact that Rudenstine simply could not be awakened for a morning meeting the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Instead, Carnesale attributed the president's fatigue to the "intensity" with which Rudenstine approached the job.