May 27, 1999
University Gazette


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A Letter From President Neil L. Rudenstine

Reviewing an 'Eventful and Gratifying' Academic Year

May 1999

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

With Commencement upon us, I want to share a few thoughts about the academic year that is drawing to a close, as well as some of the challenges on the horizon for next year.

This has been an eventful and gratifying year, punctuated by the historic visit of Nelson Mandela in the fall and the decision of Harvard and Radcliffe this spring to merge in order to create the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study as an integral part of the University. In the intervening months, we have -- among other things -- welcomed two new deans, announced substantial financial aid increases for both undergraduates and graduate students, decided upon an extraordinary rise in the endowment payout for next year, and launched a new array of science initiatives in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. I want to return to these matters, but first I want to share with you some observations about the impending merger of Harvard and Radcliffe and the creation of the new Radcliffe Institute.


As most of you know, on April 20, 1999, Harvard and Radcliffe signed a document of understanding that expresses our intention to merge and to create the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Radcliffe Institute will be a major center for advanced study in a wide range of disciplines, from physics to philosophy and from fine arts to economics. It will bring together faculty, fellows, visiting scholars, and creative artists, from Harvard and elsewhere, representing a variety of fields of study, scholarly approaches, and career stages.

As an important part of its mission, the Institute will provide unique resources and opportunities for the study of issues related to women, gender, and society, which is an important recognition of Radcliffe's historic contributions to the education of women and to the study of issues relating to women. The Radcliffe Institute will be one of the very few institutes for advanced study in the country, and as such it will provide a rich resource for the entire University, and for the scholarly community at large. Its programs will be open to women and men alike.

We expect that the formal merger agreement will be signed before the end of June 1999. That agreement, in turn, will specify an effective date for the merger, following the fulfillment of a series of legal and other conditions. Following the merger, women undergraduates will be admitted directly to Harvard College, and undergraduates will continue to be housed in the Radcliffe Quadrangle. The Radcliffe Institute will be centered in Radcliffe Yard and surrounding properties currently owned by Radcliffe College.

The Radcliffe Institute will be headed by a Dean, who will participate in the leadership and management of the University in the same manner as the Deans of Harvard's nine Faculties. After a decade of distinguished service, Linda Wilson has announced that she plans to step down as President of Radcliffe on July 1. At that point, Mary Maples Dunn, Director of the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe and former President of Smith College, will become interim leader of Radcliffe and will serve until a permanent Dean of the Radcliffe Institute is appointed. I have had the distinct pleasure of working with Mary Dunn on various aspects of planning for the new Institute, and I can assure you that we are enormously fortunate to launch this new venture with the benefit of her spirit, vision, and steady hand.

Although we have agreed on a core mission and framework for the Radcliffe Institute, the work of giving more explicit shape and content to the Institute's programs lies ahead. A special committee consisting of representatives from Radcliffe and Harvard will assist in the search for the first permanent Dean of the Radcliffe Institute. The Dean will guide a comprehensive academic planning process involving consultation with a range of advisors, including faculty members within and outside Harvard. The planning process for the new Institute will establish academic priorities and programs; position the Institute for recruitment of excellent term faculty, fellows, and associates; develop a comprehensive fund-raising plan; and identify both short- and long-term plans for the use of physical space. The Institute's planning process will be integrated into the University-wide planning envisioned for the post-campaign period.

The Radcliffe Institute will be able to make a variety of academic appointments, including professors with terms of up to five years; faculty associates from within the existing Harvard faculty; visiting faculty associates from outside Harvard; and fellows at both junior and senior levels. Individual members of the Radcliffe Institute may teach in the programs of Harvard's Faculties and Schools by arrangement with the appropriate Deans and consistent with each Faculty's established procedures. As an institute for advanced study, the Radcliffe Institute will not itself offer degrees or courses of credit toward a degree, but it may offer non-degree, mid-career instruction, as well as symposia, colloquia, workshops, lectures, and conferences.

I am pleased to report that reaction to the announced plans -- from members of the Radcliffe and Harvard communities and the public at large -- has been overwhelmingly positive. While there is inevitably some uncertainty, I am glad that most people have expressed genuine excitement about the establishment of the new Radcliffe Institute.

We could not have arrived at this historic moment without the courage, goodwill, and commitment demonstrated by the leadership of Radcliffe. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the Radcliffe Board of Trustees, especially the Chair, Nancy-Beth Sheerr, for their determination to create a new and bold vision for the future -- as well as for their patience, flexibility, and hard work in translating that vision into the plans that we now have before us. I also want to express my deep appreciation for the leadership Linda Wilson has provided over the past decade as President of Radcliffe, and for the graciousness with which she has presided over the announcement and planning for this new undertaking. Finally, I owe personal thanks to a number of Harvard colleagues for the countless hours they have devoted to making certain that the Radcliffe Institute will be well launched and fully supported as an important new venture for the University.


Beyond the transformation in the Harvard-Radcliffe relationship, the following events -- some already mentioned -- are worth brief elaboration:

As the fall term began, Nelson Mandela's visit to Harvard -- for a special convocation -- drew some twenty thousand faculty, students, and guests to Tercentenary Theatre on a magnificent autumn afternoon. His presence and eloquence were an inspiration, and the spirited event was one of the most memorable occasions in our recent past. We are honored to have President Mandela among the distinguished recipients of Harvard honorary degrees.

That same week, we announced the largest rise ever in undergraduate financial aid. In increasing the undergraduate scholarship budget by 20 percent, we reaffirmed the College's commitment to need-blind admissions and need-based aid, the twin levers that keep our doors open to outstanding students from all backgrounds and income groups. In 1999-2000, nearly half our undergraduates will receive more than $54 million in scholarship support, 93 percent of it from institutional funds -- making for an average grant of approximately $17,500. Our goal is not simply to keep Harvard accessible, but to enable our students -- by reducing their work obligations and debt burdens to take full advantage of all that the College has to offer, both inside and outside the classroom.

In February, we announced a 25 percent increase in financial aid for our Ph.D. candidates. The need to ensure robust funding for graduate students tends to receive less attention than it deserves in discussions of the economics of higher education. The expanded aid program will benefit a wide range of deserving doctoral candidates, and will do much to keep Harvard in the forefront of attracting and educating the most promising teachers and scholars of future generations.

* This year has also marked the arrival of two new Deans. Venkatesh Narayanamurti, who served with distinction as dean of engineering at the University of California at Santa Barbara, arrived in October to lead Harvard's Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and is moving forward energetically to intensify Harvard's efforts in such key fields as computer science, systems engineering, materials science, and bioengineering. The renowned immunologist Barry Bloom, meanwhile, has taken over as Dean of the School of Public Health, and his ambitious agenda is strengthening the School's position as a leader in efforts to improve health and prevent disease among diverse populations around the world.

* Labor and workforce issues have been highlighted this spring. We are currently engaged in contract negotiations with three of our seven unions, and two more contracts are due for renegotiation next fall. Students have also played an active role in focusing attention on broader workforce issues. Like their counterparts at other universities, Harvard students have urged us to take steps to ensure that clothing bearing Harvard's name is not manufactured under "sweatshop" conditions. We have indicated our determination to take aggressive action on this front, and have joined with a small set of universities to retain an independent, outside monitoring organization to report to us on factory conditions and to advise on specific actions. A group of students has also raised concerns about the compensation paid to Harvard employees and others who work for contractors of the University. Harvard is committed to providing a total compensation package to its employees that is competitive and fair, and we are confident that we meet and exceed that standard for all of our regular employees. With respect to our contingent workforce -- people who work on a temporary basis or are employed by organizations outside Harvard -- we have asked a committee of senior faculty and staff to examine our arrangements and to determine whether changes in policy are called for.

* Of the many noteworthy programmatic developments around the University this year, the set of science initiatives launched in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences deserves special mention. A number of new centers, focused on emerging areas of excitement and inquiry where the traditional scientific disciplines intersect, will secure the future excellence of scientific research and education within the FAS and more broadly across Harvard. One example is a new Center for Genomics and Proteomics, devoted to the study of an organism's entire set of genes (the "genome") and the set of proteins those genes encode (the "proteome"). The center will join investigators from chemistry, biology, engineering, materials science, and computer science in efforts to explore how whole cells behave, and to illuminate such complex biological phenomena as the evolution of species, the behavior of animals, and the role of genes in causing disease.

* Inter-Faculty academic collaboration continues to widen in scope across the University. The new center I have just mentioned, for instance, is linked to a recently created Institute for Chemistry and Cell Biology, a collaborative enterprise joining researchers from both FAS and the Medical School -- a model that suggests the growing potential for connecting researchers in those two Faculties as well as the School of Public Health. A newly mounted Ph.D. program in social policy, initiated with a major grant from the National Science Foundation, will bring together members of the departments of government, economics, and sociology in the FAS with policy scholars from the Kennedy School. The Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations, in its second full year, has intensified Harvard's commitment to the understanding of a sector of institutions exercising growing social and economic influence in the U.S., as well as many countries abroad. Indeed, the international domain has become the locus of an expanding array of cross-disciplinary efforts. Some -- such as the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, the Asia Center, the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, and the Davis Center for Russian Studies -- are focused on specific nations and regions. Others -- such as the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, the Institute and the Center for International Development, the Islamic Legal Studies Program, and the Center for Population and Development Studies -- have a more thematic emphasis and a wider geographic reach.

Meanwhile, the five inter-Faculty initiatives initially highlighted in the University-wide academic planning process several years ago -- on the environment; ethics and the professions; health policy; mind, brain, and behavior; and children -- are continuing to open new directions in scholarship, while also enriching the curriculum. What lies behind these interdisciplinary efforts -- some of them quite structured, and others less formal yet no less vital -- is not just a desire to strengthen the links among diverse academic resources that have too often remained apart. The objective is to look across traditional academic boundaries, and to explore emerging areas of inquiry that hold promise to become increasingly consequential fields for the future. The aim is also to link the academic disciplines with the professions, and the world of scholarship with the world of affairs -- extending Harvard's engagement with contemporary society while keeping our efforts rooted in serious scholarship and education.

* Harvard's achievements in such areas depend, above all, on the caliber of our faculty. While awards are at best an imperfect measure of such quality, this year has brought an abundance of honors. Since last fall, the honors conferred on the members of our faculty have included (among others) two National Humanities Medals; two National Medals of Science and Technology; the Japan Prize and the Crafoord Prize, both leading honors in biology; the Fields Prize, considered the signal honor for mathematicians 40 or younger; the Clark Medal, an analogous honor for economists under 40; and the Nobel Prize for Economics, awarded to Amartya Sen, Lamont University Professor Emeritus, who became Harvard's 37th Nobel Laureate. Laurels, of course, are perishable things, and what should encourage us most about these awards is not so much the fact of their conferral, but the creative pursuit of knowledge that underlies them.

* Harvard also captured a different sort of honor this year, as our women's hockey team brought its first-ever national championship back to Cambridge. The team's final win, coming in overtime against the defending national champions, topped off a season in which the team lost only one of 34 games. The victory also put an exclamation point on the 25th anniversary of women's participation in intercollegiate Ivy League sports, a milestone celebrated at a major gathering of Harvard athletes past and present in late September.


Much more could be said about the academic year coming to a close, but let me finish instead with just a few words about the future. As the University Campaign moves toward a successful conclusion at the end of 1999, it will be time again to think broadly about University-wide academic planning, in order to frame and support major institutional priorities for the years ahead.

It will also be a time for more concentrated -- and integrated -- efforts to consider Harvard's physical future in both Cambridge and Boston, guided by the need both to maximize opportunities for programmatic development and to ensure that we remain a good neighbor to those whose homes and businesses surround us.

We have much work ahead to chart Harvard's course in the broad and increasingly significant domain of academic information technology, both as it relates to our on-campus programs and as it creates opportunities for new forms of "distance learning." We will need to work hard, as well, on the critical challenges facing Harvard and our affiliated medical institutions, so that our programs of medical education and research remain excellent despite the growing economic pressures confronting academic medical centers across the country. And, at every opportunity, we will need to reinforce our commitment to a Harvard that is open and inclusive, that welcomes the widest variety of ideas and individuals, and that encourages us to become not only more learned and accomplished, but ever more perceptive and humane in our encounters with one another.

Sitting on the platform outside Memorial Church last September, having received his honorary degree and having addressed the assembled audience, President Mandela leaned over as the ceremony neared its conclusion and whispered to me. The second of two large student choruses was singing in his honor. "I want to shake their hands," he said. And so one after another, to the students' delight and his own, the handshakes often giving way to spontaneous embraces he did. A simple gesture, perhaps, but a powerful one worth keeping in mind as our university looks forward.

With thanks, and all best wishes,


Neil L. Rudenstine


Copyright 1999 President and Fellows of Harvard College