In the world of American higher education, there is a hierarchy, and Harvard is undoubtedly at the top.
But along with the privilege of attracting the best students and faculty in the world comes the responsibility of serving as a role model for other institutions of higher learning.
For example, whenever a national movement threatens higher education, the world looks toward Cambridge for guidance.
This year, a number of glances have been directed toward Harvard Square--and toward Massachusetts Hall in particular. Congressional representatives on both sides of the political aisle have promised massive cuts in funding of research and student aid. And across the land, interested parties have sought the leadership of President Neil L. Rudenstine.
At this decisive moment, his successes and shortcomings have been magnified.
Rudenstine possesses an impressive ability to relate to Congressional representatives in one-on-one conversations. And he has shown willingness to be a team player, fighting his battles with support from other universities.
But Rudenstine's leadership appears lacking in other areas. He has not participated wholeheartedly in associations the lobby on behalf of education. He seems reluctant to speak out in public and on the op-ed pages of newspapers, ostensibly ceding his place at the bully pulpit of higher education.
Although the threat of research and aid cuts appears to have somewhat diminished, his actions in previous months have raised questions about Rudenstine's ability and willingness to serve effectively as the nation's chief spokesperson for the interests of higher education.
"I think this is a very unusual moment," Rudenstine says. "I think this is the most critical moment for federal funding of higher education since the Second World War."
"Crisis" Has been the word on the lips of many university presidents this spring.
A new Congress swept into office last January with a sharpened axe in hand and the federal budget on the chopping block. And education dollars have been near the top of the list of endangered funding.
One target is student aid. Congress's proposals have centered on removing the provisions which allow students to avoid interest payments while in school.
The prospect of these cuts is particularly worrisome to Harvard, which maintains a need-blind admissions policy and a commitment to meet students' demonstrated need.
Science is another target. The 50-year-old mantra of ever-expanding government support of basic research has been attacked.