DEREK CURTIS BOK
AND THE WORLDLY UNIVERSITY
D uring the last three decades of the twentieth century, the meritocratic Harvard of Conant and Pusey evolved into the more worldly university of Derek Bok (1971–91) and Neil Rudenstine (1991–2001). This is not to suggest that Harvard sloughed off its intensely meritocratic character, or even its Brahmin antecedents. And of course Harvard faculty at least since World War II had been conspicuously engaged in public affairs. But the prevailing culture shifted. Worldliness—Harvard as a participant in, as much as an observer of, the larger society—became the dominant tone in the late twentieth century. To the social elitism of Brahmin Harvard, and the disciplinary emphasis of meritocratic Harvard, there now was the ever-expanding social engagement of worldly Harvard.
After Nathan Pusey announced his intention to leave the presidency in June 1971, Harvard turned to the heady business of deciding who was to be his successor. Students wanted someone young, accessible, sensitive to their educational wants and needs. Faculty members sought an eminent scholar attentive to the life of the (academic) mind. Nor could politics be ignored in this post-1969 age: one professor called for “a man who conveys a sense of sympathy with values from quite far left to somewhat right of center.” Corporation fellow Hugh Calkins later recalled that the search committee “saw Harvard as within a forest of perplexing issues, through which no clear path was visible.” The most troubling problem was an apparent shift in the prevailing view of the university's purpose. Harvard, he observed, traditionally sought to educate “leaders of high intellectual capacity in scholarly, professional, business and