With speculation about Harvard’s next president abounding, some experts monitoring the presidential search have argued that candidates already affiliated with the University have a leg up on the competition. Harvard has historically promoted from within its own ranks, and since the early 1900s, only one president has not held an administrative or faculty position at the University before assuming its top role. This practice certainly comes with its own drawbacks, and we appreciate the arguments for new perspectives to drive the University forward. Nevertheless, we believe that—with perhaps a few exceptions—the complex and dynamic responsibilities of the next president make it unwise to deviate from the current trend.
There are real and important advantages to selecting an internal candidate. Individuals already heavily involved in the day-to-day life of the University likely have a greater knowledge of Harvard’s unique administrative quirks and internal politics. They would enter the job prepared to navigate Harvard’s unique ecosystem and enact new policies as efficiently as possible.
Especially at this moment in Harvard’s history, with the University facing a host of pressing issues—including new taxes on its endowment, ongoing controversy over sanctions on unrecognized social organizations, and debates over faculty diversity—Harvard’s next president must be prepared to hit the ground running on their first day in office. We have previously opined on the need for a smooth transition. An internal candidate is more likely to be well-versed on each of these complex and nuanced conversations, enabling them to steer the University forward.
Promoting from within is also an effective strategy to inspire Harvard administrators and professors to stay with the University in the long term. In particular, as more educators across the country are being forced into temporary “in-residence” and “visiting” positions, we urge Harvard to provide clear pathways to greater leadership and influence on campus for its faculty in order to retain and cultivate talent.
Still, the search committee should not unnecessarily winnow their pool of talent by refusing to consider outside candidates. Not all past presidents, even with previous positions within the University, have had impeccable track records during their tenures. If an outsider is to be seriously considered, however, the searchers should carefully scrutinize the candidate's prior demonstrated ability to jump into a new role. The searchers should therefore consider internal and qualified external candidates in compiling their shortlist, while bearing in mind the necessity for a quick learner and talented listener, able to intimately understand Harvard’s unique dilemmas and strengths.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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