Past Presidential Searches Give Clues; Chiefs of Other Schools and Deans at Harvard Lead the Pack of Prospects

Harvard presidential searches are historically as secretive as final-club punch processes. But as with punch processes, there are leaks.

After the last two presidential vacancies, the six fellows of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, have joined three representatives from the alumni Board of Overseers on the search committee.

The names that made a short list leaked to The Crimson in 2001 suggest the sorts of contenders that the University may be eyeing this time around.

PRESIDENTIAL TIMBER

Before Lawrence H. Summers received the nod to take the reins at Mass. Hall in March 2001, media speculation centered on University of Michigan President Lee C. Bollinger.

The previous month, the Harvard Independent called Bollinger “the man who will likely lead this university starting in July.”

The Crimson reported in June 2001 that the search committee passed over Bollinger because he was too old—54 years old at the time—and because he had no Harvard degree.

Columbia University named Bollinger as its president in October of that same year. And the controversy on Columbia’s campus surrounding allegations of anti-Semitic sentiment in the university’s Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures department could have dimmed any Harvard hopes that Bollinger may still harbor.

But if Bollinger reached Harvard’s short list last time, that suggests other university chiefs—past and present—could be contenders again.

Nannerl O. Keohane, a member of the Harvard Corporation, served as president of Wellesley College from 1981 to 1993, and then led Duke University until 2004.

The 65-year-old Keohane, a political scientist by training and currently a visiting scholar at Princeton University, raised more than $2 billion for Duke during her decade as president.

Philosopher and political scientist Amy Gutmann ’71 likewise made the short list in Harvard’s last presidential search, The Crimson reported. In 2004, the University of Pennsylvania lured Gutmann away from her provost post at Princeton to take the helm of the Philadelphia school. It remains to be seen whether Gutmann’s memories of her undergraduate days in Radcliffe’s South House—now named Cabot—would pull her back to her alma mater.

She wouldn’t be the first Harvard alum to return home after serving as president of another institution. Nathaniel M. Pusey ’28 headed Lawrence College in Appleton, Wis., before becoming Harvard’s 24th president. And Thomas Hill, Class of 1843, was chief of Antioch College in Ohio before he was Harvard’s 20th leader.

UP THROUGH THE RANKS

The Crimson reported in 2001 that the search committee considered Medical School Dean Joseph B. Martin and the Business School’s then-chief, Kim B. Clark ’74, before selecting Summers.

This time, at least two of Harvard’s current deans could be logical candidates for the top job.

Radcliffe Institute Dean Drew Gilpin Faust, formerly the head of the women’s studies program at the University of Pennsylvania, has emerged as a leading force within Harvard since she arrived in January 2001.

In the aftermath of his controversial comments on women in science last year, Summers turned to Faust to lead the development of a University-wide diversity initiative, which ultimately resulted in a $50 million pledge to promote females and minorities.

Summers also turned to Faust as he was thinking about firing Faculty Dean William C. Kirby, an individual close to the Corporation told The Crimson earlier this year. Summers offered the 58-year-old Faust the Faculty deanship, but she declined, according to the source.

Just blocks away from Radcliffe’s gates at the Law School, Dean Elena Kagan, age 45, could be a strong candidate due in part to her tremendous popularity among students and professors in the three years that she’s been in office.

And the Law School deanship was a stepping stone to the presidency before. The once-and-future Harvard chief Derek C. Bok led the Law School from 1968 to 1971.

It is not the first time Kagan’s name has been floated for a prestigious post. During the 2004 presidential campaign, The New York Times and The Washington Post listed Kagan, who was a former aide to President Clinton, as a possible Supreme Court appointee if John F. Kerry had won the presidency.

David R. Gergen, a Kennedy School professor who said he has spoken with Corporation members in recent months, said he believes the Corporation will turn once again to an “agent of change.”

The Corporation said in an open letter on Tuesday that it would begin a search for Summers’ replacement “promptly.” Harvard’s vice president for government, community, and public affairs, Alan J. Stone, said Tuesday that he was not in a position to discuss a timetable for the appointment yet.

—Staff writer Javier C. Hernandez can be reached at jhernand@fas.harvard.edu.