In Search Of Input

Students and faculty have too small a role in the upcoming presidential search

Last week, University officials released the names of the nine individuals selected to serve on the upcoming presidential search committee. To no one’s surprise, no student or faculty names were nestled among the six Corporation members and three Overseers mentioned in the announcement. Included in the statement, however, was a move unprecedented in recent Harvard history but stale news at peer institutions: a formal advisory role for faculty and students, in the form of two respective advisory committees. While we welcome the opportunity for formal student input on a matter of such great import to the entire University community, we cannot help but be concerned that the “advisory” function of these committees will be anything but integral to the search process.

According to the University’s announcement, chairs of both the student and faculty advisory groups––the structure of which have yet to be disclosed––will meet with the search committee “from time to time,” and members of the committee will attend meetings of the advisory groups on a regular basis. But if the search committee intends to seek the input of its advisory groups only occasionally, it will render the present advisory groups as marginally relevant as the informal groups of students and faculty with whom previous presidential search committees occasionally met.

The search committee must make it a point to incorporate feedback from advisory groups on a regular basis; open consultation should be the norm, not the exception. It is all too easy for search committees to get caught up in the exclusivity and secrecy of their nine-person world; only constant communication with and open participation by advisory group members in the workings of the search committee will enable students and faculty to offer the insights of their unique perspectives and to feel truly invested in the presidential search process. We had hoped that the search committee would never meet without the presence of students or faculty; we hope under the proposed system, at least these times will remain very rare.

To foster a sense that all students and faculty are closely tied to the presidential search process, the University must also select a diverse group of students and faculty members to populate the committees, and it must make its selections in a transparent and well-publicized manner. Including only older, more established professors and Undergraduate Council members will do little to capture the faith of the entire faculty or student body.

Should the University wish to enable a small group to secretively select another president in whom all segments of the campus population do not have confidence, it can easily do so under the presidential search system it has announced. But if members of the Corporation and Board of Overseers want to enable all segments of the University community to feel invested in the process, regular and meaningful engagement with a diverse array of advisory board members—not the infrequent and superficial consultation of years past—must be the rule.

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