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While President Neil L. Rudenstine's decision to step down means a chance to relax for the notoriously hard-working president, the work is just beginning for those around him responsible for choosing his successor.
The name of the 27th president of Harvard may be a mystery, but one thing is clear: whoever comes after Rudenstine will take the spotlight off fundraising, perhaps shifting it to technology.
The responsibility for the search, and the final decision, lies with the Harvard Corporation, the University's six-member governing board.
The University will likely employ an academic headhunting firm to narrow the field of candidates. The search will take at least six to eight months, says a member of one such firm in Boston.
And if Rudenstine's own searches for deans are any indication, the presidential search will also involve months of brainstorming, hundreds of phone calls to experts and both formal and informal consultations with authorities in higher education.
The last presidential search involved a committee of nine members, chaired by the Senior Fellow of the Corporation (now Robert G. Stone '45). They met repeatedly with the Board of Overseers and sent out 200,000 letters to Harvard students, faculty, staff and alumni, in addition to officials at other schools.
The search committee was said to make a special effort to include women and candidates of color among the possibilities.
Those familiar with the search process said whoever is selected will be accorded one of the most powerful voices in higher education.
"First and foremost it means a very heavy responsibility to try to maintain the quality--it's arguably the world's leading university," said former president Derek C. Bok. "[The president can] speak out on issues relating to issues of higher education...The Harvard president has a unique leadership role--at moments where there are real problems."
In recent years, much of higher education's focus has turned to technology, as emphasized by the recent selection of Silicon Valley entrepreneur John L. Hennessy as Stanford's next president. Rudenstine's successor may well lean towards fields of science and technology.
Rudenstine said he will not be involved in choosing his successor.
"I'm not really planning on playing any role in that process," he said.
While Rudenstine said he will answer questions if consulted, he said the incumbent president should not play a significant part in the selection.
Some have raised the question of whether it might be time for a woman or a minority to succeed to the presidency. All of Harvard's presidents have been white and male.
Former Radcliffe College President Linda S. Wilson said that, all else being equal, she would like to see a woman take Rudenstine's place.
"Institutes should always look for the very best, most talented and most deeply understanding person," she said. "We'd love to see a woman with those qualities lead an institute like Harvard."
Yale President Richard D. Levin noted that candidates could come from the faculty.
"They'll need to look at the whole field and pick the best person they can possibly find," he said.
One of the names in the hat is likely to be Harvey Vernon Fineberg '67, the current provost and former dean of the School of Public Health.
Fineberg, who holds four Harvard degrees, has been Rudenstine's right-hand man since 1997. His name was among those candidates listed by The Crimson during the last search.
"It would be natural that his name would be mentioned," said Assistant Provost Sarah E. Wald, who is part of Fineberg's office.
At 55, Fineberg is young enough to provide vigorous leadership for at least a decade.
If chosen, Fineberg, Harvard's third provost, would be the first in that position to ascend to the University presidency.
The second provost, Al Carnesale, is now the chancellor of the University of California at Los Angeles--the equivalent of president.
And earlier this year, Stanford selected its current provost, Hennessy, as its next president.
But many--including Carnesale-- consider Harvard's provostship weak compared to other schools'. At most universities, the provost is the chief academic and operating officer--at Yale, for example, deans of all schools report to the provost.
At Harvard, the chief academic officer is Rudenstine, and the deans of all the faculties report to him.
"The provost position at Harvard is not a strong position, let's not kid ourselves," Carnesale said in an interview earlier this month. "I think it's quite true that university presidents come from the ranks of provosts, but it's not particularly common that it's at the same university."
"You don't select presidents just by promoting the provost," Carnesale added.
Carnesale added that Harvard's provost is more like a deputy president than a chief operating officer.
But Fineberg's longtime experience with science may prove welcome.
When searching for the 26th president of Harvard, the corporation wanted a fundraiser--and found an amazingly talented one in Rudenstine. Now, as Harvard is flush with funding from a six-year Capital Campaign, the focus will turn to something else--perhaps technology and perhaps students.
Levin said Rudenstine leaves his successor in a "very strong position."
"Harvard has so many extraordinary resources...A person of vision and imagination for how those resources might be used might be something to look for," he said.
Bok said the new president will have the opportunity to finish what Rudenstine has started--a widespread effort to unite a notoriously decentralized University.
"The new president can really concentrate on continuing President Rudenstine's effort to link the University together," Bok said.
Harvard will be the second Ivy League school to search for a new steward.
In early February, E. Gordon Gee, Brown's president, resigned to become chancellor at Vanderbilt University. Within days, Brown's chancellor had appointed a search committee and enlisted the help of a private executive search firm.
Brown's 13-member selection committee includes no students, though three undergraduates serve on an advisory panel.
Laura Freid, a former publisher of Harvard Magazine and currently an executive vice president at Brown, said the time lag between Rudenstine's resignation and his departure should give Harvard enough time to choose his replacement.
"It's not atypical to have a year-long process, determining the members of the search committee and gathering a large list of potential nominations," she said. "Once a short list is determined and the interviewing begins, it could take anywhere from six months to a year after that to have the president in place."
Freid said she did not think Rudenstine's announcement would winnow the field of candidates for Brown's top job.
"There's only one person who could be president of an institution at any time," she said.
Carnesale declined to comment when asked if he would be interested in the 27th presidency of Harvard.
"I'm sure it will be a national if not international search to find the very best person," Carnesale said.
But Carnesale noted that most Harvard presidents have come from within the University.
"It was considered quite surprising by some when Bok was appointed because he wasn't a graduate of the college, the same for Neil Rudenstine," Carnesale said.
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