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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Spring Cleaning in Massachusetts Hall

By Vasugi V. Ganeshananthan and Erica B. Levy, Crimson Staff Writerss

For President Neil L. Rudenstine, this semester means tidying up the unfinished business of a fundraising drive that has consumed him for so much of his tenure: the recently concluded Capital Campaign that raised $2.6 billion.

But after six years spent trekking the globe, making phone calls and wining and dining "friends," Rudenstine is now no longer in full-time pursuit of donations. With bureaucratic entanglements winding down, the loose ends are often those that relate--however inadvertently--to undergraduates.

Long criticized for not spending as much time on students as his predecessors did, Rudenstine, his financial quest over, has time to concentrate on initiatives that students--and members of the community--have clamored for. The campaign may have officially ended Dec. 31, but there is still much to do. Rudenstine and his colleagues must now tackle campaign shortfalls in certain key areas--and, of course, the larger process of planning where the unspent money is going to go.

Perhaps most importantly the University is still working to raise $52.6 million for the 40 professorships in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS)--a goal it failed to reach during the campaign. More professors will eventually mean fewer class lotteries and more personal contact with faculty for students--concrete improvements in the day-to-day lives of all undergraduates.

Outside the realm of the campaign, Rudenstine is faced with the aftermath of ending Radcliffe's college days in the wake of its merger with Harvard. Many students have expressed concern over the fate of the institution that once gained women access to a Harvard education--concerns that the University will have to address as it moves ahead with its plans.

And both on and off campus, evolving technology is constantly changing how students receive their education and how they interact with professors and fellow students. Rudenstine slates developments in distance learning high on his list of things to work on this year--including a review of the University's general conflict rules as they relate to this issue.

With all of this tidying up to be done, Rudenstine's slate seems to hold few new items. University officials long ago set their goals and posted their shopping lists. And within the next year or two, the campaign's $2.6 billion gift to Harvard will be neatly wrapped up.

But students may finally be feeling the effects of what Rudenstine does from his comfortable office on the bottom floor of Mass. Hall.

Falling Short

At both Mass. Hall and the University Development Office, the success story of the year is the Capital Campaign. Six years of networking and persuasion has reaped rewards--$500 million more than University officials expected. But the bounty did not extend to two key areas--areas that are of specific importance to students.

One was the much-needed renovation of Widener Library. Although Widener is the third largest library in the world, the musty stacks are far from being the University's most glamorous philanthropic cause. So officials say they were not shocked to find that funds weren't exactly pouring in.

"We knew it would be hard to renovate Widener," Rudenstine says.

But he adds it was the other shortfall that was a little more surprising. For years, the University and College have been criticized for their high student-faculty ratio.

And so the campaign aimed to fund 40 FAS professorships, each valued at $3.5 million--the highest price for an endowed professorship at any University.

But donors able to give that much money tended to give to other areas, not professorships, Rudenstine says. And so the campaign concluded with only 25 of the 40 positions funded.

"Keep going. Keep going," Rudenstine says emphatically when asked what he intends to do about the shortfall. "If you don't do it in five years, you do it in 10."

So while the quest for cash may have officially finished, he plans to continue fundraising. And there's no sign he'll stop once the 40-professor goal has been achieved. Rudenstine says he would eventually like to see 50 to 100 professorships added.

Rebuilding Radcliffe

Ever since Radcliffe College merged with Harvard last October, the new Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study has been working to become fully integrated into the University. Rudenstine is spearheading this effort.

The comprehensive search for the Institute's first permanent dean--led by Rudenstine himself--comes at the beginning of the Institute's efforts to fund and hire its own faculty.

Rudenstine says one of his major goals this semester is to have the Institute up and running smoothly. During the long months of secretive merger negotiations, students clamored for input, voicing their concerns that women's voice on campus was diminishing.

Now Rudenstine, along with the new dean, must shape the new Radcliffe in such a way that retains the support of female students worried that Harvard will not consider women's needs in the manner Radcliffe College did.

Whomever he chooses must find a delicate balance between those students and individuals that sought Radcliffe's end as a college, saying it was no longer needed.

It is almost certain that the new dean will be female, and it is highly likely that she will have some expertise in the fields of gender and women's studies.

Rudenstine says there have been over 80 nominations for this newest slot amongst the University's senior deans, but this month the number has been narrowed down to about 12. The number should be pared down to five or eight by March.

In the meantime, Radcliffe officials are raising money to establish professorships for Institute research.

Late last month, Terrence Murray '62 donated $1.5 million for Radcliffe's first professorship. This amount is matched by Harvard's $30 million challenge fund set up to encourage donors to help the Institute develop its own faculty.

Another project for Radcliffe this semester will be trying to cap off the Institute's 7-year independent capital campaign. Right now Radcliffe has raised over $85 million; they hope to reach $100 million by the end of the year.

Distance Learning

Long ago, women sought to gain access to the famed Harvard education by setting up shop down the road.

Now, the Internet may enable others to reach Harvard by crossing the information superhighway. And changing technology means Rudenstine is the first president who has to evaluate what it means for a University to go online.

"I think this is a term in which we have to try to settle some things having to do with our next steps in distance learning, as well as the use of information technology inside the institution to help courses and students," Rudenstine says. "The deans and I are trying to come to conclusions about that this spring to see what kinds of efforts" we want to undertake.

With new technologies capable of bringing pieces of Harvard to students across the globe, administrators are faced with questions of how to regulate access.

This fall, at the Harvard Law School (HLS), Bromley Professor of Law Arthur R. Miller's taped lectures for the internet-based Concord University School of Law raised concerns about Harvard's general conflict rules for faculty, which state that a full-time faculty member's primary professional loyalty should be to the University.

HLS Dean Robert C. Clark is now in confidential discussions with Miller about the situation. He did not say what the consequences might be if it is decided that Miller has, in fact, violated policy--but the situation shows how lines are being blurred with the increasing use of the Internet.

Miller has said his lectures for Concord are no different than several other creative learning projects he has been involved in throughout his career.

"For over 30 years, I have produced educational material in every medium I can think about," Miller said in an earlier interview. "I am known as a person who embraces new opportunities for communication--that has been my life."

Miller also said he thinks the University is upset that his lectures are being used for distance learning.

"The Yale Law School may have my teaching materials in their library--what...is the difference?" Miller said.

But Provost Harvey V. Fineberg '67 said the University is open to new learning techniques and has "done a lot, at different stages, to cooperate and extend its reach in other directions."

According to Fineberg, he is currently reviewing the University's conflict of interest guidelines in cooperation with Harvard's deans, Rudenstine and members of the Harvard Corporation.

"I hope the new updates will clarify the applicability of these guidelines to contemporary situations," he said. "It remains to be seen how powerfully different media will play out for education--pen and paper aren't that bad either."

Education may be heading into uncharted territory, but it looks like Rudenstine is going back to basics, with students beginning to see the benefits of six years of fundraising. His primary focus is no longer on renovating Harvard's buildings. Now, finally, it is on renovating Harvard's relations with its students, faculty and community.

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