UPDATED: September 12, 2017, at 1:11 a.m.
If history is any indication, faculty on the committee advising the search for Harvard’s next president will be involved until the very end of the search, even reviewing lists of candidates, while the students chosen to advise the search will play a far more limited role.
With University President Drew G. Faust’s announcement in June that she will step down at the end of the academic year, Harvard has begun a nationwide search for her successor that could last months. For only the second time in the University’s 381-year history, the committee leading that search will consult groups of faculty and students to inform the search.
The search process has long been an insular one. Members of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, and the Board of Overseers meet on campus and in cities across America for months, gathering information and whittling down a list of potential candidates until they arrive on the next president.
But in 2006, Harvard announced the formation of advisory bodies to the committee searching for a new president—an unprecedented step toward formally involving students and faculty in a presidential search. Unlike Yale, which has allowed faculty on its search committee since 1992, and Stanford and Princeton, which allow both students and faculty, Harvard opted for the formation of committees to provide official input.
The change came on the heels of criticism from former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 and other faculty who felt that their thoughts were not taken into consideration in the run-up to former University President Lawrence H. Summers’s selection. From meeting with professors and members of the Faculty Council over breakfast to extending an invitation to every department chair, the search committee that elected Drew Faust sought to take faculty concerns seriously.
Robert N. Stavins, a Kennedy School professor on the 13-member faculty advisory committee in 2007, wrote in an email that the committee was “one of several avenues through which the Corporation gathered the information it required.”
“Those of us who served on the faculty advisory committee certainly felt that we had a very adequate voice in the process. It was an intensive process, and we met regularly with members of the Corporation,” Stavins wrote. “It was also, for me at least, a very interesting and intellectually satisfying experience.”
Another faculty member of the 2007 committee, English professor Stephen J. Greenblatt, said he loved the experience and felt he had enough of a voice. The search committee met with the faculty advisory group every few weeks that fall.
And aside from meetings with department chairs and Faculty Council members, Law School professor emeritus Alan M. Dershowitz said the search committee reached out to individual faculty members.
“I know I generally get an email or a call for a personal assessment—what’s important and who might be the candidates,” Dershowitz said, adding that he has not yet been contacted this time around because he is an emeritus.
Dershowitz said he hopes the next president promotes freedom of speech and a diversity of viewpoints. “I hope the committee will reach wide and seek advice from lots and lots of people,” he said.
The 14-member student advisory committee, made up of students from the College and Harvard’s graduate schools, was “not involved in reviewing and commenting on particular candidates,” said committee chair Matthew J. Murray, who was at the time a joint degree candidate at the Law School and Kennedy School. “It was about what are the qualities of a candidate that the search committee should be looking for.”
The group met several times to decide how to solicit input from students at their schools. Some opted for surveys, while others spoke to student government representatives, Murray said. The findings were compiled into a report that Murray presented to the full search committee in a nearby hotel conference room.
“They probably had a relatively short list when we gave the report, but they certainly had not decided on who they were going to pick, is my guess,” Murray said. “I do believe that the committee took the input from the student group seriously and thoughtfully, that it was not just a going through the motions.”
Although he was satisfied with his voice in the process, Murray said he’d like to see a student on the actual search committee.
“That would be more input. I understand why they don’t do it,” Murray said, saying that students might be more likely to publicly discuss the confidential search. “But from my sense I think it would be good to have somebody in the room,” he added.
The Corporation decided to maintain the same advisory committee model as last time around, and has announced the 13 members of the faculty advisory committee, which will be headed by History of Art and Architecture professor Robin Kelsey, who also serves as the FAS Dean of Arts and Humanities. A committee of staff from around the University will also advise the search.
Prominent donor Paul A. Buttenwieser ’60 said he thought naming Kelsey was a good choice for the faculty committee.
“I just think he’s a great person in many ways and I’m very glad that he’s leading the faculty advisory committee,” Buttenwieser said.
—Staff writer Claire E. Parker contributed reporting to this story.
—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LeahYared.
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