Self-selecting groups often perpetuate their own shortcomings when
picking their new members. Thankfully, in selecting Patricia A. King to
be its newest member, the Harvard Corporation, wisely avoided this
common pitfall. King—a Georgetown professor and the first
African-American woman to serve on the Corporation—will bring much
needed diversity to the economics and business dominated body.
Three months ago when the search for a new Corporation member
was in its early stages, we called for the selection of someone who
would bring perspectives, expertise, and questions to the table that
might otherwise be neglected. Diversity of opinion, we noted, was of
particular importance because the new Fellow of Harvard College would
be replacing Conrad K. Harper, known as the lone dissenting voice on
the seven-member board that was criticized for being in lock-step with
University President Lawrence H. Summers.
Yet while we urged the Corporation to choose someone who would
not contribute to groupthink—as it seemed the Corporation might—we
recognized that they had to choose someone who they could work in
concert with. After all, while Corporation members may not see
eye-to-eye, at the end of the day they have to build consensus and work
together to effectively govern the University.
King seems to fit this model. She brings a plethora of
diversity to the Corporation—she will be only the fourth female and
second African-American ever to serve, Harper being the first.
Furthermore, having been a professor for over 30 years, she also brings
with her the viewpoint of a faculty member, an important perspective
for the Corporation to consider after last spring’s fallout between
Summers and members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. King’s
academic background will provide her with different perspectives from
the rest of the board—made up of Summers, four members of the economics
and business world, and a former university president. In particular,
her expertise in bioethics will be valuable as the University continues
its push into the biological sciences and stem-cell research.
Since her graduation from Harvard Law School in 1969, she has
maintained limited connections to the University, having last served on
a visiting committee in 1981. Although she is in many ways a Harvard
outsider, King has extensive experience as a trustee at other
universities and nonprofits. Indeed, she just finished a stint as the
chair of the board of trustees at Wheaton College. Given this
background, she will be able to bring in a breath of fresh air without
facing the steep learning curve that someone without experience on a
university board would have to deal with.
While King’s views on issues that fall under the
Corporation’s jurisdiction are largely not known, her résumé suggests
that her appointment will positively impact the Corporation by
introducing new perspectives into a board that is insular by design. We
trust King is up to the challenge, and welcome her back to Harvard with
great excitement and high hopes.