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Harvard '58, II: Posterity Now

THE Memorial Chapel steeple rises high over Harvard Yard so that the peals of its bells can carry over the elms and Georgian brick of the Cambridge environs.

But for those inside remembering classmates asterisked in our class roll since our last gathering, the 18 deep, long chungs of the chapel bell sank down into our bones.

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Listening competed with feeling to record the last of the attentuated sound.

By the standard of how institutions and individuals embrace each other for the mutual sustenance that civilization requires, Harvard is doing well, classmates agreed.

The university itself is undergoing renewal. Buildings in the yard are wrapped in enormous cloaks for refurbishment. The undergraduate curriculum is under review. President Neil Rudenstine, finishing his sophomore year as president, is laying new paths to connect Harvard's fiercely independent disciplines. For undergraduates there will be new concentrations in science and public policy. An African studies program will serve as a model for programs in American Latino, Asian-American, and native American s tudies. A focus on the Chinese diaspora will start next year.

Such programs reflect how Harvard is reexamining what it means to be a university in today's world. Can a college of limited size really admit more students from abroad? Should it attempt more regional-studies programs in Cambridge or create opportunities to study abroad: summer internships in other countries, or whole years out, which would extend the period required to get a degree?

Instruction in the most fundamental skill, writing, is now taught as a required entrance course; this needs to be followed up throughout a student's studies. Experiential learning - that is, the performance arts such as music and theater - is now relegated largely to student extracurricular life: Harvard is debating again whether such activities should be brought into the curriculum.

Does the public-service work that takes up a great deal of undergraduate time and energy require accommodation? Already, Harvard students working in nearby school systems can get state teaching certification along with their undergraduate degree.

And the big question: What should be the scope and purpose of Harvard's next big fundraising campaign? President Rudenstine is seeking a consensus on this now.

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This is a college, America's oldest, looking forward.

The dozens of classmates this reporter talked with generally agreed that Rudenstine's leadership is appropriate for the times. Repeatedly they linked concerns for the long view to actions now.

The class itself? Thirty-five years later, uniformity is as absent as ever. The one unifying factor, a classmate observes, is that "They are all interesting people."

"Shame" and "wisdom" are two themes that one psychiatrist in the class pursues in his practice. Another studies the sanitive strengths of families. And tries to measure how counseling helps.

President Clinton comes in for a lot of headshaking. His diversity theme, although meriting approval, is not an administrative program, classmates say. And why does he keeping going back on his word? Whatever the fuss he has stirred, he had no choice but to put the gays and the military issue out front early. They expect the economy to bump along. They do not like the federal deficit; but they would prefer spending cuts to tax kerfiddling, which they see as self-defeating. Downsizing, a Harvard '58 inves tment manager contends, has become the latest corporate fad: He looks for companies that spend generously and steadily on long-term research and development.

After midnight, under the tent in Eliot Yard, we are talking about the new Philip Glass opera, "Orphee," playing at the Loeb theater nearby. Interesting people.

"Let us, alive, do more together," concluded the Rev. Lyle Guttu, '58, in his chapel homily that morning. He read from a sonnet written by another classmate in October 1986, on the passing of a daughter:

... that gift of who we are and were was our design.

I will not change a moment that was hers and mine.

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