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Slichter & Stone

Two Very Different Harvard Fellows

By Todd F. Braunstein

They attended the same school, but travelled in different academic circles. They both lived along the same river, but travelled with different social crowds. And they graduated with the same class, but travelled down different career paths.

Indeed, when Charles P. Slichter '45 and Robert G. Stone Jr. '45 graduated with the class of 1945, they would have seemed like just about the most different pair of fellows at Harvard College.

Fifty years can change a lot. In fact, Slichter and Stone return to Cambridge this week as a pair of very similar fellows--Fellows of Harvard College, that is.

Slichter and Stone have each spent more than two decades--25 years for Slichter, 20 for Stone--serving on the Corporation, the University's highest governing board.

On the surface, Slichter, a professor of physics at the University of Illinois, couldn't appear more different from Stone, the chair of the Kirby Corporation.

But they are drawn together by one important element: their service to Harvard University.

Today, as the two most senior members of the seven-member Corporation (Stone will assume Slichter's role as the Senior Fellow when Slichter leaves the Corporation later this month) this unlikely couple has something else in common: each wields immense influence over the governance of Harvard.

"They are wounderful people, and actually more similar than one might think it terms of the career they've had," says President Neil L. Rudenstine, who was hired by a nine-person committee which was chaired by Slichter and include Stone.

"There are actually quite similar people in the sense that are both extraordinarily sympathetic human beings," says Rudenstine, who as president chairs all meetings of the Corporation.

"And while they can both be analytic, their fundamental mode of operation has more to do with strong values, strong human emotions and a powerful, intuitive sense of what's right and wrong, and so they're likely to approach a problem in a very similar way even though they're from totally different backgrounds."

"I think if you sat down and talked with them for an hour, you'd find that they're very different people obviously, but if you kept pushing and listened hard to the way they talk and the things they think and talk about, you'd find a lot of similarities," the president concludes.

Physicist and Kingmaker

When two Fellows of Harvard College retired in 1969, the University wanted to replace them with members from academic backgrounds. An actively teaching professor had not been a member of the Corporation in nearly a century. And in the wake of the student takeover of University Hall the previous spring, many top Harvard officials wanted a faculty presence on the University's highest governing board.

On January 13, 1970, they named two. The first was Yale history professor John M. Blum '43, a professor of physics in the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Slichter was an ideal choice for the job, officials say. He was a pure-bred legacy whose father Sumner served as a professor of economics at Harvard.

More important, he was an accomplished physicist. When he was named a fellow of Harvard College, Slichter was completing a four-year stint on the President's Science Advisory Committee under Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon. Slichter says it was this experience that made him valuable to the Corporation.

"I had not been active in Harvard affairs at all," Slichter says. "But they had an interest in adding some academics, thinking that we would have a perspective that would be useful. [And] because of the prominence of the relationship with the government in support of science, they were interested in signing a scientist."

Equally important was Slichter's own affinity for Harvard.

He entered the College in 1941, rooming in a double in Thayer South.

Like all physics concentrators, Slichter carried a heavy academic course load. But as a result of World War II, the first two years of the young physicist's course of study was crammed into one.

"In [sophomore] fall, I was taking electronics courses which we ordinarily would have taken much later, as seniors," Slichter recalls. "And all the graduate students had disappeared, so I had a job grading lab reports for [courses I had taken the previous summer]."

After his sophomore year, Slichter left Harvard to work on an underwater explosives project at the Woods Hole Institute in Woods Hole, Mass. The project allowed him to apply his newly-acquired electronics knowledge and introduced him to the idea of a life of research.

Slichter returned to Harvard in January 1946, and completed his course requirements by the end of the summer. He had little time for extracurriculars, participating only briefly in the radio station. And with the help of an undergraduate thesis advised by J. H. Van Vleck, Slichter graduate magna cum laude as a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Slichter also attended graduate school at Harvard, earning his masters in 1947 and his Ph. D. in 1949. His doctoral dissertation was advised by Edward Purcell, who had just discovered magnetic resonance.

The project was so intellectually stimulating that Slichter decided to pursue a career in solid state physics. So he took a job as an instructor at the University of Illinois.

"The University of Illinois physicists, and I thought it would be a wounderful place because I would really learn a lot," Slichter says. "The University of Illinois made a very big commitment to that field at that time. It was a very attractive place for a scientist with those interests to be."

Aside from a one-year stint as a guest lecture at Harvard, he has been at the University of Illinois ever since.

Slichter looks back fondly on his early education at Harvard. In particular, he says, the opportunity to study under Purcell and Van Vleck--both of whom would eventually claim Nobel Prizes in physics--made his Harvard experience special.

In the end, of course, Slichter decided that the experience was worthwhile enough for him to trek more than six hours from Illinois to Cambridge every other week for the Corporation's meeting.

"I just decided that this was a very special responsibility, you can see the fantastic experience I'd had, both as an undergraduate and a grad student," Slichter says. "So that had given me a tremendous sense of what a wonderful place Harvard is at its best, and the desire to try to help preserve that."

For the next 25 years, he did.

The highlight of Slichter's tenure came in 1990 and 1991 when as, the Corporation's Senior Fellow, he chaired the committee charged with selecting the University's 26th president.

Corporation member Judith R. Hope remembers Slichter's organization as being instrumental for the nine-member search committee, which eventually selected Rudenstine as the successor to former President Derek C. Bok.

The committee considered of every Corporation member expect Bok, as well as three members of the Board of Overseers, the University's lower governing board.

In addition to chairing the discussions and deliberations of the committee, Hope says, Slichter oversaw hundreds of interviews with students, faculty, alumni and staff that allowed the committee to ascertain a direction for Harvard.

And once that picture was developed, Slichter helped keep the committee on course.

"As we went through the process, he constantly focused us back on not so much a list of people but a list of qualities and a list of needs and a list of interests that we needed to look for," Hope says. "The search was very much a joint effort,..but Charlie's leadership helped keep us focused on what we were all about."

Slichter was also a guiding force when Rudenstine took a three-month medical leave of absence last November, leaving Albert Carnesale to fill the roles of acting president, provost and dean of the Kennedy School of Government.

"Charlie was just a very steady hand, and we were often talking several times a week during those couple of months," Hope says. "Charlie was certainly adept and able in that situation to hold everything together."

Beyond his leadership abilities, Corporation member stress Slichter's commitment to academic values.

"He is one who always defends the traditional role of the University as an educational institution," says Geyser University Professor Henry Rosovsky, who serves on the Corporation. "I think he has a kind of natural suspicion of a university getting involved in too many things not directly related to its mission as an educational institution."

Slichter says he is especially proud of his service on two key committees of the governing boards, one of which, the joint committee on appointments, is quite important in the academic guidance of the University.

That committee includes two members of the Corporation as well as two from the Overseers, with the president serving as chair. According to Slichter, its charge includes consideration of appointments for deans, administrators and key professorships. The committee also meets with deans to discuss broad policy issue such as affirmative action, according to Slichter.

Slichter is also proud of his service on the Corporation's Committee on Shareholder Responsibility. That committee considers how the University should deal in a socially responsible way with proxy issues--such as votes for directors--in corporations for which the University holds stock.

During Slichter's tenure, the University applied a complex set of principles, which include whether the social conduct of a company was beneficial to its employees. Largely as a result of the committee's analysis, the University decided to divest itself from all its tobacco holdings, while still maintaining an interest in some companies who dealt with apartheidridden South Africa.

Overall, Slichter cherishes his quarter-century on the Corporation.

"I just feel that it's been a remarkable experience to resume my acquaintance with Harvard in such a manner," he says. "I just realize how lucky I am that someone reached out and tapped me like that to come here, and I tried to do my best."

"It's something which has been very gratifying to me," he concludes. "Because I really feel that Harvard is just a magnificent place and deserves being preserved in that way and helped to thrive."

Drawing Money From a Stone

The appointment of Robert Gregg Stone Jr. '45 to the Corporation appears to have been less of a given.

When Albert L. Nickerson '33 left the Corporation in December 1974, the University was left with two lawyers and two academics as the Fellows of Harvard College.

A business executive was very much in order, then-president Bok said at the time.

So no November 17, 1975, Stone was named to the Corporation.

And Huge D. Calkins '45, a former Crimson president who was on the Corporation at the time, says he was a bit surprised. But Stone did well in the end.

"Bob Stone turned out to be an absolute genius," Calkins says. "I think I was [surprised] when we picked Bob Stone, but he turned out to be the consummate fundraiser."

Stone is known throughout the University for his unparalleled ability to bring cash to Harvard.

Former Corporation member Blum says Stone convinced him to contribute by a multiple of 10 more than he had originally intended in a recent capital campaign.

"When Bob puts the bite on you, you know you're bitten," chuckles Blum, who served with Stone for more than a decade on the Corporation.

The key to Stone's success, colleagues say, is his unwavering enthusiasm for the University.

"I've never seen anybody who has the same enthusiasm for developing resources for Harvard," Clakins says. "He would hear about an Arabian sheik who had some remote connection to Harvard, and he would hop on the next plane there."

Other colleagues say Stone's impeccable preparation is responsible for his success.

"He does very through work about the people he's going to ask for money, so he knows really quite a lot about their business," Burr says."He does his research, he does his homework and he really believes in what he's doing."

"As far as Bob Stone is concerned, he is probably the greatest money raiser that Harvard has ever had," Burr says. "I supposed the only competitor for the prize would be [former corporation member] Bishop Lawrence, who was long before my time in the 19th century."

"There's no embarrassment on his part," Calkins jokes about Stone. "It's a pleasure for him to go and ask someone for a large sum of money."

Stone has utilized his fundraising skills and "shameless" asking abilities for Harvard as chair of its two most recent capital campaigns. One of these is the current five-year, $2.1 billion drive that began last May. The campaign will be the largest in the history of higher education.

In addition to his fundraising capabilities, he has set up financial aid scholarships through the admissions office, colleagues say.

But colleagues say there is much more to Stone than his ability to raise cash. In fact, they say that his ability to convince doors is simply reflective of his genuine interest in people--especially people at Harvard.

Many observers are quick to point out that Stone takes an unusual interest in undergraduates.

"I often come to the Faculty Club before Corporation meetings," Rosovsky says. "And I'll very often see Bob Stone there having breakfast with a bunch of undergraduates. He's not a person for whom the generation gap means a great deal."

Rudenstine says that Stone "almost never comes to campus without...meeting with students to find out what's going on no campus."

Stone also almost never comes to campus without seeing a Harvard athletic event. He is a particularly big fan of the football and hockey teams, observers say.

"He's a big rooter and booster of athletics in general. I'm trying to rein him in," Rosovsky jokes.

Stone's colleagues say he brings keen business instincts and a sharp analytical mind to Corporation discussions.

"He's very shrewd financially, very involved in many of the decisions that have been made with respect to the Harvard endowment, which has done very well," says Hope of Stone, who serves on the board of the Harvard Management Company. "His wisdom and financial management are more [valuable] than anything."

"He's not just a fundraiser," Blum concludes. "He's also dedicated to all aspects of Harvard's best interests, and is a man of great personal charm."

Stone did not return several phone calls.

Corporation member Richard A Smith '43 refused to be interviewed for this article. University Treasurer D. Ronald Daniel, the other Corporation member, did not return several phone calls.

Still, Stone's resume paints a picture of a man who has had extraordinary success in the business world. He has served as chair of the West India Shipping Company and the General Energy Corporation and a director of Combustion Engineering, Inc. and Corning Glass International.

He is also a trustee of The National Rowing Foundation.(According to Burr, Stone rowed for the Harvard crew during his college years.)

Stone lives in Greenwich, Conn., with Helen, his wife of 48 years.

In his 50th anniversary report Stone described his service as a fellow of Harvard College in glowing terms.

"The Harvard involvement..continues to be intense but is probably the most worthwhile thing I have done in my lifetime, Stone wrote. "The resources of people running Harvard--and teaching there--is unbelievable and the real privilege of being a Corporation member is getting to know so many of these outstanding individuals."

"Hopefully, I will continue to serve the University in whatever capacity presents itself in the future," adds Stone.

Even though Slichter and Stone barely crossed paths in college and would hardly have had occasion to meet in their professional fields, they were still drawn together by a deep commitment to serve Harvard.

"In that sense," Rudenstine concludes, "there's really no difference. They're quite similar, quite wonderful human beings."

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