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Until recently, Neil L. Rudenstine hadn't noticed that the clock in the corner of his office has a fly painted on it. When his assistant pointed the insect out to him, the outgoing University president has decided it's probably got something to do with "time flies."
He's also considering what the passing of this year is going to mean for him. Nearly five months into his final year, he's had time to think.
One option: a move back to the classroom. It's a possibility he's seriously considering.
When asked if he would return to a previous academic home--Princeton, where he served as provost-- Rudenstine said that if he returned to teaching, it would be at Harvard.
"It would be here," he says. "I would need to prepare."
It's been 33 years since he was last a full-time professor, and he admits that he may have some catch-up reading to do.
"I don't want to let Harvard students down," says Rudenstine, who is a scholar of poetry. "It's a question of how fast I could retool."
While he probably wouldn't return to the classroom next fall, it's possible that he would teach the following year, he says.
But education's not the only thing on his mind. In an interview with The Crimson last spring, Rudenstine said he would like to travel post-presidency. His list of desired destinations "stretches from Istanbul...to Marrakech...to St. Petersburg," he said at the time.
Now he says that while he would like to take short trips, he won't be away for any long stretch. And since he and his wife, Angelica Zander Rudenstine, will be vacating Elmwood House--the president's official residence--they have looked at some properties in Cambridge. (Too expensive, he grumbles good-humoredly after a decade of hearing exactly that.)
And while he's still working hard at the University, he's beginning to curtail his presence in some areas, feeling that his successor should be the one to make certain decisions.
"I don't want the next person to be stuck," he says.
"Stuck" might not be the word that springs to mind. Just as Rudenstine is staying out of some things, he's spending time in areas he considers important to the long-term goals of the University, like technology and globalization.
His successor will also benefit from another aspect of his handiwork: the highly regarded deans of the faculties--almost all handpicked by Rudenstine through meticulous search processes.
"I would advise the new president to hang onto them," Rudenstine says. "They're a terrific group. You don't want to go off on a lot of searches right away."
After all, the University's already got one to focus on.
Since his announcement that he would leave the presidency in June 2001, the requests and letters that used to pour into his office have slowed. Is he nostalgic? Maybe. But he's also amused.
"People have realized I'm not able to give them as much as I used to," he laughs.
If he's no longer so sought after, it doesn't seem to faze him. In a recent interview, Rudenstine seemed more relaxed, chatty--and reflective.
He remembers the time before the last presidential search and his own appointment as "pleasant and interesting."
"I was very happily at work," he says of the period when he was an executive vice president at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. "I had long ago decided not to be a university president…. I wasn't looking to start all over again."
As his administrative days come to a close, the man perhaps known best for considering himself last is thinking about his own future. And noticing his own ticking clock.
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