Dear Mr. Stone: Council Members Voice Opinions on Presidential Search

As the nation awaits the results of one presidential race, and Faculty turn towards Harvard's search for a president, students are beginning to focus on their own race--the Undergraduate Council's race for president.

The Crimson recently asked the current Undergraduate Council president and the five candidates what they thought about Harvard's presidential prospects--and what they had done to voice those thoughts to the University's notoriously clandestine searchers.

Two of the five candidates--Paul A. Gusmorino III '02 and Stephen N. Smith '02--have been in contact with search officials to voice their opinions.

Two others--Matthew P. Zanotelli '02 and Justin A. Barkley '02--have not contacted the search committee.

The fifth candidate, jokester B.J. Averell '02, declined to answer the question, saying he is "one of their top five candidates, but they are waiting to see if I can first win the UC election."

"Once they see that I have the backing of the student body, it will be only a matter of time before I am named the President of Harvard University," Averell says.

Why--or Why Not?

Zanotelli said he has not been in contact with the committee "because the president is equally involved in every Harvard college [sic]--FAS being only one of them."

Zanotelli compares Harvard to the nation in its chain of command.

"When you want to speak to the president of the U.S. about federal land, you go through the Secretary of the Interior. And that is much the same way Harvard works," he says.

He says that FAS deans including Knowles, Lewis and Illingworth take student concerns into account--and that that is a reasonable method of student input.

Barkley did not cite a particular reason for not contacting the search committee.

Gusmorino has contacted the committee and has discussed the search with Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 and others. This Sunday, he is scheduled to meet with the Board of Overseers--Harvard's second-highest governing board, and the final stamp of approval on the selection--and will talk to them about issues he thinks should concern the University president.

Smith and council president Fentrice D. Driskell '01 co-authored a letter to the search committee, proposing a student advisory board. Their suggestion was not taken. While they were able to suggest several groups that the committee might meet with,

Smith says this is not enough.

The Common Goals

Common threads run through the candidates' views on what a University president should be.

Point one--with a six-year capital campaign, Rudenstine has been limited in the amount of time he can spend with student. But his successor doesn't have to be. Every candidate wants a University president who is in touch with student concerns.

"Undergraduate life is obviously something I care about, and it should also be priority for the incoming president, or at least something she or he looks into," Averell says.

Gusmorino says that Rudenstine has done an excellent job of providing the University with resources to plan for the future. The key now, he says, is to make sure undergraduates are involved in policy decisions.

Gusmorino says he hopes to see a president who will work for a diverse faculty and institutional support for student-faculty interaction. Houses need to be renovated to provide more undergraduate space, he adds, and performing arts also need attention.

Candidates also clamor for more student input into the search itself. Barkley noted that Stanford, Brown and Princeton haven't "crumbled from allowing a student role in decision making, and neither would Harvard."

"Even at Harvard, when I was a freshman, they allowed UC reps to interview prospects for an assistant freshman dean's post," Barkley says. "I think that any candidate worthy of Harvard's presidency should want to be interviewed by some of its students." Barkley also criticized some of Rudenstine's responses from last week's Days of Dialogue event.

"People would suggest ways they wished Harvard were different and better, and Rudenstine would say something like, oh, we did it that way at Princeton. In his tenure he hasn't even addressed student concerns that were solved back when he was Princeton!"

What Driskell Has Done

Current President Fentrice D. Driskell '01 met with the committee several weeks ago, and also wrote them a letter, asking them to create a student advisory board to the search committee. She presented the letter to them before her meeting with them and the House Committee chairs.

Her proposal outlined how the board would be selected: the vote would be held within the council, but any undergraduate would be eligible to run. The same mechanism is used for student-faculty committees.

Driskell provided The Crimson with a rough draft of her letter, which she signed as council president.

"We would ask that the Search Committee meet with the Advisory Board occasionally and stay in regular contact with the chair of the Search Committee," Driskell writes. "Many students and publications on campus are upset that there is not a student on the Search Committee itself."

Driskell wrote that the board would help the committee by serving as "a testimony of good faith to the student body," centering student influence instead of "a cacophony of protests or petitions or letters like this one"--and of course, providing student input to the decision process.

But not surprisingly, Driskell's efforts were to no avail. While the search committee has met with a number of students--including Phi Beta Kappa honorees, House Committee chairs and various others--there is still no formal avenue for student input into the search.

"They have preferred to meet with students in small groups and solicit opinions that way," Driskell says. "The idea of a student advisory board is complicated because it's not just the college that they have to consider. The idea of a student advisory board to the presidential search seems like it would be too difficult to coordinate."

But such boards exist at other schools, including Princeton.

Driskell says that while she isn't "outraged" at Harvard's approach, she would have liked to see a stronger student voice in the process. In the era of e-mail, letter-writing--the only method of input open to all students--can be time-consuming.

"Students are very busy," Driskell says. "While it seems simple to ask for a letter, that's a more complicated matter for students."

According to Driskell, the council is considering inviting a member of the corporation to one of their meetings.

"I think they are genuine [in wanting to hear student concerns]. A student advisory board would have been a much better way to do it," she says. "It would have been a more than symbolic gesture."

Smith, the former co-chair of the Campus Life Committee, who co-wrote a letter to the search committee with Driskell, considers the letters a disjointed method of communication.

"It seemed like a disorganized way of doing it, there's a question how much an effect a single letter would have, whereas if you had a student ad board those would be actual human advocates for student concerns," he says.