October 17, 1996
University Gazette


Full contents
Police Log
Gazette Home
Gazette Archives
News Office


  A Letter from the President

October 17, 1996

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

In a season when we welcome many newcomers to the University, including a class of undergraduates who will take us forward into the year 2000, I wanted to take note of several points of rising interest on Harvard's horizon. One -- international studies -- concerns the substance and structure of our academic programs. A second -- information technology -- relates to how we teach and learn. Others -- the University Campaign and federal funding for university research -- involve the resources we need to move ahead.

This academic year promises to be a particularly important one for international studies at Harvard. Plans are in formation for a new complex -- based within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, but intellectually linked to other parts of the University -- which will help create closer connections among various centers and programs focused on international affairs. "Globalization" is an overused term these days. Nonetheless, many large issues in modern life clearly have strong transregional or global dimensions. Whether the subject concerns the emergence and fragility of many new democracies, or the interplay of resurgent religious movements and politics in different parts of the world, or the tensions between environmental protection and economic development, or the prevalence in many societies of forms of conflict related to ethnicity or race, we have much to learn from comparative studies that can help us see broad patterns across traditional academic and geographical boundaries.

With this in mind, we expect to create a complex of new and renovated facilities that will link many of Harvard's existing centers and programs of international studies. Over the last three years, the University has made considerable strides on several fronts: among others, the founding of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, the endowment of the Kathryn W. and Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Russian Studies, the expansion of the Korea Institute, and the creation (at the Law School) of both the Reginald F. Lewis International Law Center and the Center for Islamic Legal Studies. Most recently, we have begun to seek significant resources for the creation of an Asia Center.

As we continue to strengthen these and other parts of the University focused mainly on particular nations or regions, we also have an opportunity to bring them into greater contact with one another, in a way that will enable faculty and students to share and to integrate insights drawn from different regions and fields of study. Physical plans for the international complex are in the early stages -- we intend to create a unified new home for the Government Department as well -- and fundraising efforts are actively under way. The hope is to create a distinctly visible center of activities for international studies at Harvard, one that will stimulate greater interaction, more joint projects, and a more concentrated approach to many problems of vital contemporary concern.

This year will also bring intensified activity in the arena of information technology. As I said last May at the Harvard Conference on the Internet and Society, we are on the threshold of a major transformation in this sphere -- one comparable in its implications to the creation of the great university research libraries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Decisions we make now about how, and to what extent, we integrate new information technologies into our academic programs will influence the shape of the university for many years into the future.

My own view is that networked computers, the Internet, and related technologies have already demonstrated their capacity to enhance the process of learning in ways that many previous inventions -- such as radio, television, and even the "free-standing" personal computer -- did not. The new technologies are more versatile, more interactive, and far more capable of reinforcing established modes of teaching and learning that we know to be effective. Their full potential is only beginning to be realized -- at Harvard and elsewhere -- and we have both an opportunity and a responsibility to move forward.

In a series of meetings last year with the Provost and the Deans of the Faculties, it became clear to me and others that there is a strong, broad-based interest in exploring possibilities for greater uses of information technology within each School, as well as across the Faculties. In addition, there are important technology-related policy matters -- in such areas as intellectual property, and partnerships with other organizations -- that have potential University-wide significance. To explore this range of issues, I have asked Provost Albert Carnesale to form a University Committee on Information Technology. Consulting with the Deans and others, he is in the process of refining the committee's charge and defining a subcommittee structure. More details will follow in the near future. Meanwhile, as we sharpen our focus on the academic uses of new technologies, we have set in motion a major initiative -- Project ADAPT -- designed to take fuller advantage of information technologies that can make our administrative systems and processes more effective and efficient.

* * *

The 1996-97 academic year will be an important one for our $2.1 billion University Campaign. Thanks to the exceptional generosity of many alumni and friends, as well as the hard work of innumerable people in the broad Harvard community, we have so far raised more than $1.25 billion in gifts and pledges -- including more than $330 million in new commitments during the 1995-96 academic year alone. Although it inevitably takes time before fundraising efforts translate into visible programmatic developments, some of the early fruits of the Campaign are already apparent. Within the last year, for instance, we have seen the results of the extraordinary transformation of Memorial Hall; the progress of work on the new Barker Center, which will bring together many of the humanities departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences; the start of major renovations to the Langdell Law Library; and the dedication -- just this month -- of the new François-Xavier Bagnoud Building at the School of Public Health, home to the new Center for Health and Human Rights.

Just as important, if less immediately visible, are the ways the Campaign is supporting efforts across the University to strengthen the Faculties through new or newly endowed chairs in many fields, and to keep Harvard's doors open to outstanding students from all backgrounds through well-funded programs of financial aid. The University's most essential resource remains the vitality, diversity, and remarkable talents of the people who come together in our community, and it is this resource which the fundraising drive aims to sustain and renew. For now, the Campaign remains a challenging climb up a rather imposing mountain. As is often the case in such efforts, each successive stage can seem even more formidable than the previous one -- especially as we seek to support academic priorities for which funding has traditionally been harder to attract. It will take concentrated, cooperative work across Harvard to maintain the Campaign's encouraging momentum: the kind of work that has been very much in evidence so far.

Another matter of continuing concern is the status of federal research funding. This is, of course, an area where we have far less direct control than in our private fundraising efforts, but it is one in which the stakes are very high and the voice of the research community must continue to be heard. To date, the picture has been mixed: funding in certain areas -- especially those relating to health and the biomedical sciences -- has fared reasonably well, while in others it has begun to erode significantly. Although the overall trend has so far been better than many had expected, existing proposals for cuts in all non-defense discretionary spending make the forecast for the next several years cloudy at best.

My most recent trip to Washington, in late September, strengthened my conviction that there are many thoughtful and concerned people in both Congress and the Executive Branch who recognize the vital importance of the nation's longstanding research partnership between government and universities -- and the need to preserve that partnership. The American Association of Universities has been committed to this issue during the past year, while new organizations such as the Science Coalition -- in which Harvard has played a leading role -- have been successful in helping to broaden bipartisan appreciation of the many benefits to society of university research. But the prospect of serious research funding cuts remains genuine and troubling, given the prospect that discretionary spending will likely bear much of the burden in any effort to balance the federal budget by 2002. In this climate, we must all continue to explain the power of university research: as a fertile source of new knowledge and ideas, as an essential part of the educational process, and as an immensely productive means both to advance economic prosperity and to change people's lives for the better.

* * *

Of course, much more awaits us this year. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences will be reviewing the Core Curriculum, with the benefit of the thoughtful analyses of a committee chaired by Pforzheimer University Professor Sidney Verba. At the same time, as a number of the professions find themselves in the midst of unusually rapid and profound changes, it will take continuous and imaginative planning to ensure that our graduate and professional school programs not only respond to such changes, but are at the forefront in helping to shape them. In addition, many of our programs of midcareer and executive education are undergoing review, given the increasing emphasis placed on continuous, lifelong learning in most professions. And, as we address these questions of educational substance, we need to consider what steps can be taken to help our graduate and professional school students avoid becoming so burdened with debt upon graduation that their career choices are unduly constrained. This last matter will remain a priority of the Campaign, a focus of our efforts in Washington, and a significant element in our broader financial planning efforts around the University.

On other fronts, we are making good progress in the search for a new Dean of the Faculty of Medicine to succeed Dan Tosteson, who will step down next June after twenty years of outstanding leadership. The new dean will be involved in leading the Medical School through an important time of transition, as major changes in health-care economics and delivery systems pose a new set of challenges for education and research. Meanwhile, we welcome Professor Dennis Thompson to his new, half-time role as Associate Provost, in which he will bring his valuable perspective to academic concerns that extend across the Faculties, while continuing as director of the University-wide Program in Ethics and the Professions. And we have now launched a search for a new Vice President and General Counsel to succeed Margaret Marshall, who -- having served Harvard with great distinction -- has just been confirmed as the newest Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

The coming months will also usher in a new stage of both academic and administrative planning. We will enter a new, more circumscribed phase of the University-wide academic planning process, as we take stock of progress at roughly midcourse in the Campaign. We will want to consider what kinds of additional, targeted financial investments we might make in the near future, in order to enhance the quality of education and research across Harvard. In addition, having succeeded this year and last in holding the central administration's core budget growth below the level of inflation, we intend to embark on a more intensive phase of central administration planning, aimed at promoting crossdepartmental coordination and working as efficiently as possible in support of institutional priorities.

* * *

I have touched on only a handful of the noteworthy initiatives and events among many that might equally be mentioned. Let me conclude by noting just one more. On Friday evening, September 20, Dean Jeremy Knowles and Myra Mayman hosted a musical celebration of the restoration of Sanders Theatre. In the evening's finale, thirty-two hands, belonging to sixteen Harvard students, seated at eight grand pianos, played a virtuoso rendition of Rossini's "Semiramide Overture." It was an exhilarating performance. And it provided, in miniature, a glimpse of Harvard at its best: the exceptional talent of many individuals, all on the same stage, playing complementary parts, and creating together something accomplished and memorable that no one of them could have achieved alone. May we look forward to many more such moments in the year ahead.

With all best wishes,


Neil L. Rudenstine


Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College