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Undergraduates hope that the next Harvard president will bear strong similarities to the last, according to a member of the University-appointed Student Advisory Group (SAG) aiding the search for the next Mass Hall occupant.
SAG member Vivek G. Ramaswamy ’07 said that many College students who spoke to the advisory group expressed enthusiasm for projects pursued by former President Lawrence H. Summers. “They want to see a president who’s similarly bold in continuing to push new initiatives,” Ramaswamy said.
Among the popular projects cited by students is the expansion of undergraduate financial aid, according to Ramaswamy. Summers announced the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative in spring 2004—an effort that now covers all tuition costs for parents in families making less than $60,000.
“Many students who attended our discussions appreciated his boldness in pursuing change that improved the undergraduate experience,” Ramaswamy added.
SAG undergraduate representatives were chosen by members of the Undergraduate Council (UC) as well as University administrators, according to UC Student Affairs Committee Chair Ryan A. Petersen '08.
The representatives conducted an online survey of students at all of Harvard’s schools, and undergraduate members of SAG interviewed classmates and conducted focus groups. Now SAG is preparing a final report on its findings that it will submit to the nine-member presidential search committee.
University spokesman John D. Longbrake wrote in an e-mail that the search committee has been meeting with SAG regularly throughout the search.
Six of the nine search committee members are also fellows of the Harvard Corporation, the University's top governing board. About a week before Summers resigned in February, the Corporation's senior fellow, James R. Houghton '58, pressured the embattled president to leave his post. Houghton is now leading the search for Harvard's next president.
NOT NAMING NAMES
Statistics from the survey and most details from qualitative responses are, for now, a closely kept secret—SAG members said they would not release their report to the public until after the new president had been chosen.
And the names of the presidential candidates nominated by students in the survey will never be released, according to SAG chair Matthew J. Murray, who is in his second year of a joint law and public policy degree program.
Students suggested “tens and tens if not over a hundred different names,” Murray said, adding that suggestions ranged from academic and non-profit leaders to entrepreneurs and politicians.
SAG is preparing a report for the nine-member search panel, though it has decided that the report will not be released to the public until the new president is named and can review the results with the student group, Murray said.
“That’s the courteous thing to do,” Murray said, “and we expect it to be more constructive and useful to have the chance to engage and discuss the contents one-on-one” with the new president.
He added that the group does not want such a discussion influenced by “sound bytes in the media.”
The decision to keep the survey results private was made by SAG, not by the Corporation members or Overseers, according to Murray.
SAG released a summary of its survey results to The Crimson, identifying “broad themes” gleaned from the 2,581 students who responded to the online survey.
According to the summary report, students designated “improving pedagogy and curricula,” “increasing inter-school engagement,” increasing diversity, reducing the cost of education, and “expanding student participation in decision-making” as challenges for the University.
Survey respondents called for a president who has “been a student on many levels” and strongly values “intellectual curiosity” and “humility.” Students, according to the report, also said that they wanted a president who takes risks but fosters collaboration.
Students’ views on the next president can provide search committees with a unique perspective, American Council on Education spokesman Paul Hassen said. But he added that search committees may be looking for a different type of candidate.
What students want is “not always in harmony with perhaps what the board thinks is important at that given moment for the overall development and management of the institution,” he said.
—Staff writer Katherine M. Gray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Brittney L. Moraski can be reached at email@example.com.
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