UPDATED: December 4, 2017 at 12:12 p.m.
When Barry R. Sloane ’77 heard his longtime friend Paul J. Finnegan ’75 would help lead the search for Harvard’s next president, he wasn’t surprised.
“I’ve known him since we overlapped as undergraduates,” Sloane said. “He’s been enormously dedicated to Harvard and I would suggest has really been a leader of the Harvard community [for] a long time.”
Finnegan is one of 12 members of the Harvard Corporation who, along with three members of the Board of Overseers, staff the committee searching for the successor to University President Drew G. Faust. His search duties add to an already lengthy list: In addition to his work as University treasurer, Finnegan serves as co-chair of the Harvard Campaign’s executive committee, has previously led the Harvard Alumni Association, and holds leadership roles in a wide variety of Harvard’s schools.
Friends and colleagues, pointing to Finnegan’s long track record at Harvard, say he will likely play an influential role in directing the search in months to come.
“I’m sure he will be a strong and respected voice on that committee,” Sloane said.
Robert D. Reischauer, former senior fellow of the Corporation, called Finnegan one of Harvard’s most “devoted” alumni leaders in a 2012 interview with the Harvard Gazette.
“He will bring us not only important financial and organizational expertise and a deep knowledge of the University and its governance, but also a broad set of relationships across the community and a wonderful way of motivating people to stay engaged with Harvard,” Reischauer said at the time.
Sloane said Finnegan has been eager to shoulder Harvard responsibilities since his undergraduate days. While a student at the College, Finnegan balanced membership in the all-male AD Club and competing for Harvard’s ski team with academic commitments. Sloane called Finnegan a “motivated student,” graduating cum laude in Government.
After college, Finnegan attended Harvard Business School. He is now the co-CEO of Madison Dearborn Partners, a private equity firm based in Chicago.
Although he said he has not spoken with Finnegan about the presidential search, Mitchell L. Dong ’75, his college classmate, said he thinks Finnegan might favor a candidate with a business background. As treasurer, Finnegan is closely involved in Harvard’s financial strategy—including the ongoing overhaul of Harvard Management Company, which manages the University’s $37.1 billion endowment.
Finnegan may also look for a candidate likely to continue Faust’s roughly year-old penalties on members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations, which—starting with the Class of 2021—bar members of these groups from campus leadership positions, varsity athletic team captaincies, and certain prestigious fellowships. Faust debuted this social group policy in May 2016, and has drawn both criticism and acclaim from students and faculty ever since.
A week after Faust announced the penalties, Finnegan penned a letter to the editor in The Crimson supporting the sanctions.
“Many have argued that the traditions of final clubs must be upheld, and indeed I and many others value our experiences as members,” Finnegan wrote. “But our aspirations for Harvard and Harvard students in the 21st century demand that we work to create an environment in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive.”
In an interview in November 2017, Harvard Corporation senior fellow William F. Lee ’72 said he thinks Harvard’s next president will likely keep the College’s penalties on members of single-gender social groups largely unaltered.
Finnegan has not commented publicly about the search.