Harvard's charter charges the Harvard Corporation--the oldest corporation in the Western hemisphere--with the business of picking presidents.
This used to mean that every two decades or so, some of Boston's older and more aristocratic gentlemen spent a couple of months surveying the city's upper education circles before they picked a candidate.
In recent decades, Harvard presidential searches have become more open and democratic than they were in the past. The corporation has become more diverse, and the pool of candidates that is considered has expanded. Searches are now longer--and perhaps taken more seriously.
A separate search committee was established for the first time in the 1990 search that brought President Neil L. Rudenstine to Harvard, with three members of the Board of Overseers--Harvard's second highest governing body--joining six members of the Corporation, the highest governing body.
The search committee was the most diverse body of its kind in history, including two women and a black man.
Not surprisingly, many parallels can be drawn between the 1990 search and the present quest for a successor to Rudenstine. The search committee wrestled with many of the same issues that this year's search committee faces. It also considered several of the same candidates. And it has several of the same members--including current search committee chair Robert G. Stone Jr. '45.
In talking about the present search, Stone frames many of his remarks in the context of his work on the 1990 search.
The Rudenstine search is a story of pomp, circumstance and glamour. Clandestine meetings in a Chicago mansion, at the Boston Ritz and in the New York headquarters of consulting giant McKinsey & Co. The sudden death of a key search committee member. Dramatic, last-minute revelations in the candidate list.