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Students, Faculty Left Out of Process

By Tova A. Serkin, Crimson Staff Writer

The men and women who hold Harvard's future in their hands will be under continuous scrutiny over the coming months as they choose the next president of the University.

And if the last presidential search is any indication, the nine-member search committee will face much criticism for its composition and secretive manners. During the search that culminated in Rudenstine's appointment ten years ago, students protested both their lack of participation in the process and the secrecy.

Other critics assailed the committee for its lack of diversity and the high proportion of members involved with the financial world.

And while it is too early to say how students will react in the fall, history shows that many will be vocal in their opposition: The demographics of the current search committee are almost identical to the 1991 committee, and the process promises to be as secret as ever.

The Players

Comprised of the six Harvard Corporation members other than Rudenstine and three members of the Board of Overseers--the same composition as the 1991 search--the committee will likely come under attack for the same reasons it did 10 years ago.

Once again only two women and one ethnic minority will serve.

The average age of committee members is over 65 and, as before, no students or faculty members will formally take part in the decision-making process.

Only three members of the committee have backgrounds in academia or academic administration.

Three of the search committee members, Robert G. Stone Jr. '45, D. Ronald Daniel and Hanna H. Gray, were on the group that chose Rudenstine.

The only notable difference on the committee is Conrad K. Harper, who was appointed the first black member of the Corporation this year. In 1991, the single minority on the committee was an Overseer.

Old School Ways

Past Corporation members and Overseers say the make-up of the search committee is appropriate and has worked well in the past.

"I believe it's fair to say that the Harvard presidents have been really special people," said Charles P. Slichter '45, a former Corporation member and two-time presidential search committee member. "That's the ultimate proof."

While other schools such as Williams College and Stanford University have allowed students and faculty on their search committees, Harvard has not changed its search process.

"Why should Harvard be guided by what other do?" asks Charlotte P. Armstrong '49, former chair of the Board of Overseers.

Both Armstrong and Slichter say the search process is inclusive enough that it is unnecessary for students or faculty to actually have a vote.

Armstrong quickly dismissed concerns over the lack of formal student input.

"Many, many people will be consulted," she says. "But I don't see that the kindergarten needs to run the school."

"I don't think you students need to be worried about [the search] being totally comprehensive just because you're not going to be at the table," Armstrong said. "You've got plenty of time in life to be on search committees."

Though student concerns will be solicited, it is unlikely that most will respond to the letters the committee sends out, or that the search committee members will be able to address such a wide variety of ideas.

During the last search, students started an undergraduate watchdog group called the Committee on University Practices (COUP) to lobby for more student involvement and input on the search process.

A candidate for the Undergraduate Council presidency even made more student involvement in the search a plank in his campaign platform.

Campus organizations such as Phillips Brooks House Association and the College Democrats openly supported many of COUP's demands.

These students also protested that promises of letters and meetings were not enough to ensure them a real voice in the process.

Over 700 hundred students signed a petition asking for an institutionalized form of input for students.

On a symbolic level, it may be necessary to have students serve on the committee, says Williams College graduate Robert Wiygul, who served on a recent presidential search committee as an undergraduate

"A search committee represents the institution at large," Wiygul says. "It's important that all major constituencies find their way onto the committee."

Business as Usual

As one of the wealthiest institutions in the world, Harvard is known for its obsession with money matters, making it little surprise that half the search committee members are from the business world.

Students have been upset in the past that such a heavily corporate group is responsible for choosing an educational institution's next leader.

Again, Armstrong and Slichter both jump to the defense of the composition.

"You don't want to just have a bunch of professors doing the search," Slichter says. "You want a broad-based spectrum."

But the three committee members with backgrounds in academia--Hanna H. Gray, Sharon E. Gagnon and Thomas E. Everhart '53--may be able to compensate for the other six members in terms of academic knowledge.

These three have extensive educational experience and contacts that balance out the rest of the group.

Additionally, some of the corporate types on the committee have previously held positions at other educational institutions. D. Ronald Daniel, for example, has chaired the Board of Trustees at Wesleyan University.

"They wouldn't be at their positions at Harvard if they didn't have something to offer," Armstrong says. "Your businessmen are very board-gauged people."

Harvard's Secret Society

While the Corporation keeps quiet about their business during the year, the presidential search will be even more secretive.

Some members of the search committee have refused comment while others refer any specific questions to the University spokesperson.

This blanket of silence may prove to be a contentious point this fall. For a student body already distanced from the search process, being kept in the dark will most likely not help.

According to Slichter, there are reasons for the confidential nature of the meetings, with publicity sometimes causing more harm than good.

"You can lose some of your best people by making it public that they are under consideration," he says.

Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68--who compared the secret nature of the search to the ongoing Middle East peace summit--says the secrecy will allow the search to be more productive.

"Public search processes actually produce less information about candidates," he writes in an e-mail message. "The kind of sensitive information that is most wanted about individuals is almost never anything that the people who know it best would be willing to share with more than a very small number of known trustworthy individuals."

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