Students Debate Qualities, Priorities of Next President at Forum

Student Forum for the Presidential Search
Members of the Student Advisory Committee listen to students’ comments regarding the Presidential search Wednesday evening in Fong Auditorium.
Students from schools across Harvard spent two hours debating the ideal qualities and priorities of the University’s next president at a forum hosted by the presidential search student advisory committee Wednesday evening.

Several students said they hope the successor to University President Drew G. Faust—who announced plans to step down over the summer—is a person of color. Others requested a 29th president who understands the definition of a “safe space.”

But the roughly 30 attendees spent the majority of the event, held in Boylston Hall, critiquing Harvard. Students denounced the University for items ranging from its recent decision to rescind a visiting fellowship for Chelsea Manning to its lack of a comprehensive ethnic studies program.

Members of the student advisory committee—the 18 graduates and undergraduates who will advise Harvard’s official presidential search committee—encouraged the critical conversation. At the beginning of the session, committee members distributed notecards and instructed attendees to write down ways they want the University to change, as well as things they want to stay the same.

The committee also used the forum to outline its ongoing projects and schedule. Members told the audience that, over the next few weeks, the group plans to host office hours at each of Harvard’s 12 degree-granting schools, hold “focus groups” across campus, and send an online survey to all students requesting input on the next president.

In the long-term, the committee plans to compile and send a report to the official search committee, composed of all twelve members of the Harvard Corporation and three members of the Board of Overseers, according to committee chair and Law School student Jyoti Jasrasaria ’12. Jasrasaria said the group hopes to file its report by the end of 2017.

The student committee’s formation and slated role in this year’s presidential search marks the second time in recent history that students have formally helped seek a Harvard president. The 2006 search committee formed the first student advisory body after undergraduate outrage over their lack of involvement in the 2000 search.

Jasrasaria opened the forum Wednesday by reflecting on what she called the “historic” nature of the moment.

“We are the second-ever student advisory committee, and it’s the first time we’ve ever done an event like this in Harvard’s history,” Jasrasaria said, referring to the committee’s decision to hold a public town hall to gather student perspectives on the search.

She explained that the committee will broadly divide its work into four categories going forward: “Civic Engagement and Leadership,” “Teaching and Training,” “Diversity and Inclusion,” and “One Harvard.” One Harvard refers to a long-running administrative push to institutionalize collaboration across the University’s 12 schools.

Roughly midway through Wednesday’s meeting, committee members ceded the microphone and asked students to raise areas of concern in each of the four categories successively. As members busily scribbled notes, attendees canvassed a wide range of issues.

Many focused in particular on how Harvard treats its employees: They mentioned the 2016 dining workers’ strike and the ongoing battle over graduate student unionization as examples of where the University must do better.

The committee plans to start hosting focus groups on Oct. 24.

—Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at hannah.natanson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.

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