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HARVARD has a long tradition of keeping students at bay when it comes time to select a new president. That tradition should end now.
The current secrecy shrouding the presidential search differs little from the last time Harvard chose a chief executive. Twenty years ago, the Corporation--which conducted the search that turned up President Derek C. Bok--went through the motions of soliciting outside advice. Corporation members made noises about including student voices in the selection process, without ever actually listening to those voices.
Twenty years later, it's deja vu all over again. Just like before, students have thus far been kept out of the loop. The search committee initially said that it would include students from the beginning of the process; that statement was revealed to be a lie last week, when The Crimson reported that the committee had already winnowed the field to a medium list--before consulting students even once. So much for consensus.
Students--like all University constituencies--deserve a say in the selection of the president who will set Harvard's agenda as it heads into the 21st century. To be fair and equitable, the search committee must hold more meetings with students, institutionalize a role for all University constituencies and release all future lists of candidates--until the very last--to the entire Harvard community.
BACK in early August, Harvard's presidential search committee seemed like it would welcome--and even solicit--student opinion during the search process. The nine committee members--six from Harvard's governing Corporation and three from its alumni-elected Board of Overseers--said that they would consult in the fall with "all interested parties," including "constituted student groups." They promised to meet with at least two of Harvard's student governments--the Undergraduate Council and the Law School Council. And they promised to mail letters to all students asking for advice.
Three months have passed since those heady days of August, and the search process has shifted into high gear. The search committee has consulted just about everyone but students and staff members.
All the committee has offered students so far is a pathetic fig leaf: a one-hour meeting with a dozen members of the Undergraduate Council on November 18. No other students will be allowed to attend. It's doubtful that specific candidates will be discussed. And given the late winter deadline for the final choice, it's unlikely that many more--if any--such meetings with student leaders will be held.
That's hardly the substantive student role in the search process that was promised by the search committee--and that the students deserve.
At the same time that Harvard's search committee is boxing students out, other schools across the nation are intitutionalizing a student role in presidential searches.
At Princeton, for example, students sat with faculty and staff members on a committee that worked with the board of trustees in selecting a new president in 1989. Wesleyan used a similar system during its search in 1987-88. And Radcliffe students sat on an advisory committee that helped choose President Linda S. Wilson in 1988. In fact, of the 13 private colleges and universities examined by the Ralph Nader-sponsored group Harvard Watch, only Yale could match the exclusiveness of Harvard's selection process.
Does Harvard's committee just want to beat Yale?
THE product of a presidential search depends very much on who conducts the search and who gives the advice. That was the case at Harvard in 1970 and at other schools over the years. It's clear that this time, Harvard students are doing no searching and no advising.
So how to make the process more inclusive to all University constituencies? It may be too late to seat students, faculty and staff members on the search committee, but it's not too late to do the following:
. Open the November 18 meeting to all students. Why not let all students come--if not to speak to the committee members then at least to hear what's being said? It's the very least the committee could do to maintain its charade of inclusion. The council should empatically express at once its dissatisfaction with the terms of the meeting to the search committee.
. Allow students--and faculty and staff members to seat representatives on a panel to advise the 9-member search committee, as other universities have done. This panel should meet regularly with the committee, have access to the lists of candidates and interview all candidates on the "short list." And it should have veto power over the final choice.
. Release all future lists of candidates--until the last list--to the Harvard community. Secrecy might be necessary at the last stage of the process to protect the reputations of candidates. But with the field still so large, releasing the names could hardly compromise any potential Harvard president. And knowing specific names would permit Harvard constituencies to provide specific input on presidential candidates.
Students should demand a say in a decision that will so profoundly affect the future of Harvard--and they should get it. That means allowing students to get off the sidelines and into the middle of the presidential search process.
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