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The staffing of the president’s office changes with its leader, but the departure of two aides at the end of two years—even when anticipated—is a relatively new phenomenon.
According to Morton Keller, co-author of Making Harvard Modern, aides used to spend many years in Mass. Hall.
A long-term relationship between president and aides goes all the way back to former President Charles W. Eliot, Class of 1853, Keller says.
Under James B. Conant ’14, Harvard’s 23rd president, presidential aides “were all Harvard graduates, people who had devoted their careers to Harvard,” Keller says.
William Bentnick-Smith ’37, a journalist, served as a personal assistant to Nathan M. Pusey ’28 for 18 years.
By the 1960s—in the middle of Pusey’s tenure—Harvard modernized its central administration, bringing in vice presidents who did not attend the University and transforming it into something like a “modern corporation,” Keller says. But despite the changes in office structure, Pusey still opened his own mail every morning, according to Keller.
His successor, Derek C. Bok, increased the number of vice presidents in charge of governing administrative aspects of the University.
When Neil L. Rudenstine took Harvard’s helm in 1991, he notably revived the provost position, which had ended after Conant’s tenure.
James Rowe ’73, vice president for government, community and public affairs under President Neil L. Rudenstine, notes that Rudenstine’s office was structured similarly to Summers.
“I think President Summers has a traditional model that he’s changed somewhat to fit the model that he likes,” Rowe says.
But instead of a chief of staff, Rudenstine had a staff director and no special assistant.
—JENIFER L. STEINHARDT
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