Nine people assembled at the Boston Harbor Hotel on the morning of Sunday, Feb. 25.
They were nine Important People—a roll call of Harvard’s most powerful alumni: the six members of the Harvard Corporation and three members of the Board of Overseers who composed the University’s presidential search committee. They were waiting for a very special guest. There was no red carpet, no fanfare—but he was indisputably a Very Important Person. His name was Lawrence H. Summers. He took a back way upstairs and met them in the presidential suite.
Summers talked to the search committee for almost five hours that day about his plans for Harvard. It was not his first time interviewing with some members of the search committee, but others were encountering his renowned intellect for the first time.
"After a long and intense search, we knew we were coming to an important moment and a great time for the future," one member said.
While Summers spoke in the room upstairs, reporters downstairs scoured the hotel for a glimpse of any candidate, and the rumor mill was enchanted with a man named Lee C. Bollinger.
At the end of the meeting, the search committee was almost certain: Summers was their man.
How and why did they come to this decision? Somewhere deep in the bowels of the Harvard Archives are 31 boxes. They are labeled with the number UAI 15.1795.7, and contain around 10 cubic feet of files from the search for Harvard's 26th president. As is typical with many of Harvard's "secret" files, they are under seal for 80 years—not be read or opened until the year 2071. If precedent is any indication, the records of the search for Harvard’s 27th president won’t be unsealed until the year Summers himself would turn 126.
This secrecy is paramount, University administrators say—the pool of candidates for the presidency would be diminished immediately if contenders knew they would face public comment and scrutiny. So with the resources and money of the University at its disposal, the search committee went to great lengths to avoid the public eye. But now, in dozens of interviews with search committee members, candidates, administrators, faculty and staff over the year, a clearer picture begins to emerge of the process that led to the turning point: the Feb. 25 interview.
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