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As the nine members of the presidential search committee meet over the coming year, the process they use to select a successor to President Neil L. Rudenstine will look familiar.
The oldest University in the country has changed in many ways, but the way it chooses its leaders has stayed constant. The committee will follow the well-worn path of soliciting suggestions for the next president by deluging students, faculty and staff with letters.
"We had very extensive interviews with faculty and staff, as well as people outside the University," said former Corporation member Charles P. Slichter '45, a veteran of the searches for Rudenstine and former president Derek C. Bok.
While Rudenstine is not a member of the committee to choose his successor, he will be consulted during the process.
In the search for Rudenstine, Slichter said, "We met with Bok and asked him [about successors]--it would be crazy not to ask the current president about people. You'd be crazy not to get all the help you could get."
In fact, the only major change in the presidential search process throughout Harvard's history was the addition of three Overseers to the committee in the search that produced Rudenstine--hardly a sweeping step of liberalization.
"[The process] changed a bit, but we did it for a reason," Slichter said. By adding the Overseers, he said, "we thought we'd strengthen the input."
According to Slichter, the Overseers, who must approve the Corporation's choice for president, wanted more information about the search process and other possible candidates.
"They don't want to just be a rubber stamp," he said. "They want to know who else you were looking at, and why you picked them. You include them so the Board of Overseers could feel like some of their members know everything."
Another past trend is an understandable preference for a president from academia. In the search for a successor to Nathan M. Pusey '28, the search committee ruled out any candidates from outside the academic world. That attitude seems likely to continue.
"I would be surprised if they put heavy emphasis outside academia," Slichter said. "If you're not from academia, you're not a great person to run a university."
The committee that will choose the next president is a demographic throwback too--to old, traditional Harvard. There are only two women and one minority in the group.
The committee will meet in the utmost secrecy, and its members have been famously close-lipped in past searches. Slichter emphasized the need for confidentiality, saying that if a candidate's name were leaked, that person might be inclined to withdraw themselves from the running.
The Harvard Corporation, the University's oldest and most powerful governing board, has always dominated the search for the president. As it has whenever a president of the University resigns, the Harvard Corporation will appoint six of its seven members to the committee to search for a successor. The seventh member, the outgoing president, is the only member of the Corporation that does not serve on the search committee.
Some of the members of the search committee who were around when Bok resigned will see a couple of familiar names on the list. Provost Harvey V. Fineberg '67, once considered to succeed Bok, is considered an early front-runner to be the next president.
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