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The Search Committee: A New Generation?

By Maggie S. Tucker

The group that chose Derek C. Bok to lead Harvard University in 1970 was not exactly a model of diversity.

It was all male. It was all white. It was composed exclusively of members of the secretive Harvard Corporation.

Twenty years have passed. The University has changed and so has the composition of the group charged with finding its new president.

First in a two-part series profiling the presidential search committee.

There are two women on the panel instead of none. There is one minority where before there were not any. Three members of the alumni-elected Board of Overseers have joined the group.

In 1970, only two of the search group's five members were academics. In fact, the two scholars, University of Illinois physicist Charles P. Slichter '45 and Yale historian John M. Blum '43, had just been added to the Corporation that year because of concern that the group was not sufficiently in touch with academic issues.

But in 1990, the number of academics on the panel (three) has actually declined in proportion to its overall size (nine).

The committee consists of six of theCorporation's seven members: Slichter, the onlyhold-over from the group that chose Bok; triallawyer Judith Richards Hope; Acting Dean of theFaculty Henry Rosovsky; corporate executive RobertG. Stone '45; Gilette Company Chair Colman M.Mockler, Jr. '52 and management consultant D.Ronald Daniel.

Also on the committee are three members of theBoard of Overseers: investment banker John C.White-head, University of Chicago president HannaH. Gray and corporate lawyer Wesley S. Williams,Jr. '63, who is the first Black to take part in aHarvard presidential search.

The group, named after Bok announced hisresignation in June, expects to name a successorby early next year.

Harvard affiliates familiar with the search saythat the Corporation's inclusion of overseers onthe committee was intended partially to mendfences between the University's two governingboards.

In the past two decades, relations between theOverseers and Corporation have been strained fromtime to time over such issues as Harvard's policyon investment in South Africa-related companiesand more general questions of governance.

The Overseers, who will eventually vote on thecommittee's nomination, may feel more of aconnection with a president chosen by some oftheir own.

"The two boards have a historic conflict," saysBlum, who is no longer on the Corporation. "If theCorporation had done it alone, there would be lessconfidence on the part of the overseers."

And retired Harvard sociologist David Riesman'31, a longtime student of higher education, saysthat naming overseers to the committee was a smarttactical move.

"It's a useful caution, since the overseershave to approve the selection. It gives them asense of having a stake," says Riesman. "But inaddition to the legitimation function, there's anactual increase in the diversity."

But the committee remains primarily composed ofpeople whose primary affiliations are not with theacademic world.

Despite the panel's make-up, Cabot Professor ofthe Natural Sciences John E. Dowling '57 says heis counting on Gray and Rosovsky to be strongadvocates for academic values.

"I hope [the committee members] find apresident who will be a real leader in education,not just at Harvard but for the whole country," hesays.

And others say that the corporate and legalperspectives of the search panel will be helpfulin choosing a president who can sucessfully lead aplanned $2 billion-plus capital campaign, expectedto be higher education's largest ever.

Defenders of the committee also say that itcuts across several of the major academicdisciplines: Hope and Williams are lawyers;Slichter is a scientist; Gray is a historian;White-head is familiar with public policy; andRosovsky is an economist and expert on Japan.

Student Input?

The Undergraduate Council and Harvard Watch, aRalph Nadersponsored watchdog group, have calledfor more student involvement in the searchprocess, but some Harvard affiliates say that thecommittee is already in tune with undergraduateconcerns.

Four members are graduates of the College, andone, Hope, has a son and a daughter who arecurrent undergraduates. Richard J. Zeckhauser '62,Ramsey professor of political economy at theKennedy School, says that these members'familiarity with undergraduate life might do asmuch to represent student interests as actuallyhaving a student on the panel.

"There are people with deep interests in allthe University's constituencies" on the committee,he says. "The challenge is conveying that to theworld at large.

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