Sitting on the Edge of a Precipice

When Derek Bok stopped to consider his first six weeks as President of Harvard, he allowed as how he "felt a little as if I'm on the edge of a precipice looking downward." He may be, but he shows no apparent signs of trepidation.

Bok is approaching his new job with a quiet calm, a calm brought about by a combination of confidence and apprehension. He has assembled an experienced, highly-competent legion of vice presidents and presidential assistants, and he has, over the past nine months, laid a careful foundation on which to build solutions to Harvard's maze of administrative problems.

In doling out the daily worries of the University to his aides, Bok has freed himself to concentrate on the larger problems which surface in the accompanying interview: 'cultivating federal assistance to universities, coordinating plans with Cambridge and the housing situation, and studying ways to alter and improve education throughout the University, but particularly on the undergraduate level.

Bok also has made sure he will have answers ready by the fall on the major issues raised within the student body and the community in the last two years. He is preparing a stance on the question of equal admissions for women; he will issue a policy statement on the Riverside housing problem. He may also release Harvard's affirmative action plan on minority hiring practices in the University.

But perhaps, as Bok says, his chief responsibility--especially in this first year--will be making key appointments throughout the University. There are at least two deans in the graduate schools who must be replaced; Dean May is stepping down as dean of the College at the end of this year; and a new dean of Radcliffe must be found.


There are several clues to how Bok's Administration will differ from that of President Pusey. It will be larger, more autonomous with regard to the Governing Boards, more active in the community and in government relations, and, most noticeably, it will center its attention on the educational structure of the University. The administration of services and finances will once again become means by which to upgrade academic programs and to provide support for the deans of the University.

More differences in the Bok Administration are sure to become apparent as the year progresses. One thing is certain--the pattern will be different from that of Massachusetts Hall during the past two decades.

Below is a sampling of points made by Bok which do not appear in the accompanying interview.


Bok does not feel much more military research is forthcoming, and he says he supports the Faculty's guidelines on research adopted last year. "But," he says, "the (Faculty) report does set forth certain requirements relating to the manner of conducting research projects that might be applicable to military research. For example, we would not accept research projects for anonymous sponsors or research whose real purpose is misleadingly disclosed or research that carries a security classification or requires security clearance of University personnel or otherwise limits general publication of results."

ON HAVING A TROUBLESHOOTER: Bok said he would rely "quite heavily" on his administrative assistants, Stephen Farber and Walter Leonard, for most special projects. He will not have someone outside the Administration--such as Archibald Cox '34, Williston Professor of Law, under President Pusey--act as a troubleshooter. He did say, "I find that John Dunlop is a very effective troubleshooter for any problems arising in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and I doubt very much whether I would need to supplement him with any resources of my own."

ON A PROVOST: "I'm going to sit back and try to figure out where my major needs are, where I feel most in need of being complemented." If he thinks a provost is necessary, Bok will appoint one. "But it clearly will be someone not in a hierarchical position in any way...not a box on an organizational chart beneath me through whom everyone must pass in order to get his business done."

ON FIGHTING: "I'm sure there are issues--particularly where issues arise that threaten the freedom or autonomy or the health of higher education--when it becomes very appropriate, it seems to me, to rally around such university presidents as agree with you and speak out very firmly. Who else is to do it?" Medical School area where several hundred units of community housing will be built.

Q. How would you describe the University's financial situation at present, and can you predict where cutbacks in spending, if any, will come?

A. As I understand it, the University once again ran a deficit this year for the third year in a row; the deficit will probably be slightly larger than the deficits in the two preceding years, although certainly not on the massive proportions of the Columbia deficit. But I think we are experiencing a process which has gone on at other universities and which was well described in great detail, with many graphs and figures, by the provost of Princeton, Bill Bowen, who appropriately enough is an economist.