Radcliffe Consults Its Compass

The nascent Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, whose structure has gradually evolved from promise to particulars, continued taking shape...

The nascent Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, whose structure has gradually evolved from promise to particulars, continued taking shape this February with the delivery of an advisory committee report. Last June, President Neil L. Rudenstine, in close consultation with the institute's dean-elect (now dean), Drew Gilpin Faust, and acting dean, Mary Maples Dunn, formed the 11-member committee chaired by Caroline Bynum, Ph.D. '69, a history professor at Columbia. Committee members included distinguished scholars and academic leaders from outside Harvard, including the heads of the other three institutes of advanced study in this country. Believing, as the report declares, that "the moment of the establishment of a new institution provides an opportunity for institutional re-thinking that will not come again," the committee considered how to structure Radcliffe's organization and intellectual agendas to best fulfill the institute's stated mission: to foster advanced study across the full range of disciplines, with a special focus on women, gender, and society.

Integration is the first key recommendation. Radcliffe has long encompassed several quite independent entities: the Schlesinger Library, Bunting Institute, Murray Research Center, and Public Policy Center. "The activities of the individual units bear little relationship, either substantively or administratively, to each other or to a sense of common purpose for the institute as a whole," the report says. "The result is an organization that appears from the outside to be overly fragmented and balkanized, with a resulting lack of coherence."

Faust has already moved toward integration by centralizing the review process for fellowship applications in the Radcliffe Institute. The logic is that one does not maintain institutes within an institute. "The fellowship program must be the center of the institute," says Faust. "We are trying hard to bring the fellows together physically--they're scattered all over. We may set up a regular lunch, for example. What is an institute for advanced study about? Why not just send the fellows a check and let them stay home and do their work? One answer: we feel certain that human interactions yield intellectual activities."

Partly to enhance interactions, Radcliffe will also reduce its overall number of fellows, from 62 this year to 35 to 45 a year. Faust cites three reasons for doing so: "First, at a smaller scale, our community can get to know itself better. If it's too big, physicists end up talking only with other physicists. Second, there's a shortage of physical space--we really are pinched. Third, it's expensive to have that many fellows." (Most current fellows receive stipends in the $40,000 range, with a few senior scholars getting up to $68,000; Radcliffe also helps with moving, research, and housing expenses.)

Staff reductions are also scheduled. Currently, Radcliffe has a $30-million annual operating budget and a staff of 130 full-time and 36 part-time employees. The report asserts that "Radcliffe's staffing levels appear very high when compared to other research centers and institutes for advanced study," almost all of which operate with fewer than 10 staff members. Faust agrees, noting that Radcliffe's "staffing structure grew out of its days as a college." An administrative review is underway.

Regarding Radcliffe's intellectual agenda, the report states, "We almost immediately dismissed the idea that there should be a separate center for gender studies within the Institute," and elaborates: "Studies of women, gender, and society should not be isolated from other fields of inquiry. Rather, scholars who specialize in gender studies should be in constant interaction with others across the range of disciplines." For example, a behavioral economist might study how patterns of spending, saving, and investing differ by gender. Furthermore, the institute can foster women's and gender studies in several ways, such as the creation of a dedicated fellowship, or with conferences, calls for papers, yearlong seminars, or research themes.

The report cites historical studies as a specific area of strength, noting the value of the Schlesinger Library as well as Faust's own work (see "The Deadliest War," page 15). Indeed, Faust, Dunn, and committee chair Bynum are all historians. Sociology and developmental psychology can profit from the data sets in the Murray Center, and the report suggests renewed emphasis on the humanities, particularly since "they may be losing ground nationally, and Harvard University offers uncommon resources to draw upon." The committee also singled out the creative arts as aligned with Radcliffe's mission and able to draw on an inheritance from Radcliffe College and the Bunting Institute. Other major opportunities lie in the natural sciences, where women are underrepresented. Research in mathematics, theoretical sciences, and science policy is instantly feasible, but the committee recognized the need for creativity in facing the "formidable challenges of funding bench scientists," while noting that Radcliffe would be "a lesser place" without fresh insights from research laboratories.

The Public Policy Center, founded in 1994 by former Radcliffe president Linda Wilson, has an operating budget of almost $1 million and seven full-time and five part-time employees. Its publications are typically reports to foundations or in-house reports, rather than books or articles in academic journals. The committee found engagement with issues of public concern consistent with the institute's mission, but declared, "Radcliffe's approach to public policy needs to be fundamentally reframed." In a blunt rebuff to the thrust of the center's work, the report stated, "As an institute for advanced study, Radcliffe's primary focus should not be on applied research directed at developing policy options, but rather on the use of the social sciences to increase our understanding of basic social phenomena."

The report also suggests that the dean appoint an advisory board to consult on intellectual and administrative matters. Faust commented, "I'd want to choose people who will give me some trouble." Though the ad hoc committee may not have given Faust trouble, its report presents her with a basket full of problems--and a plethora of opportunities.

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