Search Committee Has Talked to Hundreds, Lee Says

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Harvard's presidential search committee has met with hundreds in its outreach efforts so far, William F. Lee '72 said in an interview with the Harvard Gazette.

Harvard’s presidential search committee has met with hundreds of people and received about 1,500 emailed submissions in its outreach efforts thus far, Senior Fellow of the Harvard Corporation William F. Lee ’72 said in an interview with the University-owned Harvard Gazette Wednesday.

Since University President Drew G. Faust announced she will step down in June 2018, members of the search committee have met with 200 people individually to solicit input on the search, Lee said. The committee—composed of the entire Harvard Corporation and three members of the Board of Overseers—has also met with several hundred people for group discussions.

“The Harvard community has many members, and they have different perspectives and different views,” Lee told the Gazette. “It is really important to hear from all of them as best we can.”

But Lee conceded that finding someone who can satisfy all of Harvard’s constituencies is an impossible task. “If you consider all of the things that every member of the Harvard community would like to see in the president, there is no one person who can satisfy all of those desires,” he said.

The committee, then, will look for a person with “the fundamental human characteristics” to lead Harvard. In doing so, they’ll also consult affiliates of other universities for guidance, Lee said.

The committee’s broad outreach, secrecy, and closed-door meetings with stakeholders in Cambridge and other cities follow patterns of past searches. As they did in the 2006 search that culminated in Faust’s selection, the committee also convened several advisory groups to formally provide input from various campus constituencies throughout the process.

In the Gazette interview, however, Lee emphasized that “each process is different, and there’s no template for a process that gets to the right result.”

Higher education has evolved and confronted new challenges in the ten years since Faust took office, Lee said, and the committee’s considerations have changed with it.

“I’d say it’s not so much that the search process is different. The context is different,” he said.

Over the past decade, the University has expanded its global footprint, Washington presence, and STEM offerings. Fundraising has become a central preoccupation of the University president, as Faust has successfully steered a record-setting capital campaign. And the University president more frequently navigates issues of diversity and inclusion.

Lee told the Gazette that these priorities will likely continue under Faust’s successor, though he or she will add their own to the mix as well. “We will have a new president, with new perspectives and new priorities, to guide us forward and, I hope, to strike the right balance between continuity and change,” he said.

The committee is choosing Harvard’s 29th president as the University—and higher education more broadly—faces what Lee called “a time of challenge.” Most recently, a Republican tax bill would tax university endowments and increase the financial burden on graduate students. This, combined with threats to research funding and poor endowment returns, puts the University on shaky financial ground.

“Dealing with these larger challenges will be crucial to our ability to remain the pre-eminent academic institution in the country and the world,” Lee said.

While search committee members told alumni last month that the search remains in information-gathering mode, sources close to the committee said they have begun narrowing a list. Faculty, alumni, and donors have pointed to four likely internal candidates: Business School Dean Nitin Nohria, Government Professor Danielle Allen, FAS Dean Michael D. Smith, and University Provost Alan Garber ’76. Lee declined to comment about the progress of the search or specific candidates.

—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at claire.parker@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.

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