In Search for Next Chief, A Formal Role for Students and Faculty

Harvard officials announced yesterday that students and faculty will have a formal role in the selection of University President Lawrence H. Summers’ successor—a move that comes five years after students decried their exclusion from the last presidential search.

There are still no students or Harvard faculty members on the nine-person presidential search committee unveiled yesterday. The committee comprises the six members of the Harvard Corporation—the University’s highest governing board—as well as an art historian, a computer scientist, and a trial lawyer, all three of whom serve on the Corporation’s sister body, the Board of Overseers.

But the search committee will seek official input from student and faculty advisory committees, according to a statement from the University. That marks the first time—at least in recent memory—that students and professors have had any formal involvement in the presidential search process.

The search committee will also consult with alumni “at various locations beyond Cambridge and Boston as well as locally,” according to yesterday’s statement.

The announcement suggests that the Corporation members—who rarely make public appearances on Harvard’s campus—are responding to critics who say that University governance is too secretive. Corporation members spoke with several department chairs and other Faculty of Arts and Sciences members in the run-up to Summers’ resignation. But some professors at the University’s professional schools had complained that the Corporation—the only body with the authority to fire and hire a president—failed to reach out to the broader Harvard community in considering Summers’ fate.


More than a year after Summers delivered his now-infamous speech examining the under-representation of women in the upper echelons of science and engineering, a female professor of electrical engineering and computer science will help choose Summers’ successor. Susan L. Graham ’64 teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, and she has served on Harvard’s Board of Overseers since 2001.

Two of the search committee members have served as college chiefs themselves. Frances D. Fergusson, who holds a doctorate in art history from Harvard, has been the president of Vassar College, a 2,500-student school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., for nearly two decades. She joined the Board of Overseers in 2002.

The other former college head on the committee is Corporation member Nannerl O. Keohane, a past president of Wellesley College and Duke University.

A lawyer who specializes in intellectual property litigation, William F. Lee ’72, will also hold a spot on the committee. Lee was an aide to the independent counsel who investigated Reagan administration officials’ involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal, and he is now the co-managing partner of the law firm WilmerHale. He joined the Board of Overseers in 2002.

The longest-serving member of the Harvard Corporation, James R. Houghton ’58, will chair the search committee. Houghton, the only member of the Corporation to have served on the search committee that selected Summers five years ago, is also the chairman of the glass and fiber-optic cable manufacturer Corning.

“Seeking a new president is obviously a matter of crucial importance to the University, and we hope to benefit from the perspectives of the many people who care about Harvard,” Houghton said in a statement.

The other members of the Corporation are economist Robert D. Reischauer ’63, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office; investment manager James F. Rothenberg ’68; and Robert E. Rubin ’60, who preceded Summers as Treasury secretary.

Georgetown law professor Patricia A. King, who is set to join the Corporation in May, will also serve on the search committee.

Summers’ temporary replacement—former University President Derek C. Bok—will lead Harvard beginning on July 1 and until a permanent successor is named. As interim president, Bok is expected to assume his seat as the seventh member of the Corporation, but his name was not on the list of search committee members unveiled yesterday. In recent searches, the outgoing president has not served on the committee that selected his successor.


The search committee will meet with the chairs of both the faculty and student advisory groups, along with the president of the Harvard Alumni Association, “from time to time,” and search committee members will frequently attend meetings of the advisory groups, according to yesterday’s statement. It was not immediate clear how the Corporation will select members of the student and faculty advisory committees.

Under the University’s 1650 charter, the Corporation must seek the counsel of the 30-member Board of Overseers, who are elected by a vote of Harvard alumni, in choosing the new president. In yesterday’s statement, the University said the Overseers would serve a “key consultative role” in the search.

The committee maintains the same structure that was used for Harvard’s last two presidential searches. In 2001, the presidential search committee chose Summers after nine months of deliberation.

During that process, representatives of the search committee met with students in small, informal groups. Members of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society, the Undergraduate Council president, the chairs of several House committees, and a half-dozen graduate students all had an audience with search committee representatives in October 2000, The Crimson reported at the time.

But the extent to which those sessions affected the search committee’s ultimate selection remains unknown. The records from that search are sealed in the Harvard Archives until 2071.

Letters soliciting advice on the search will soon be sent to Harvard faculty, students, staff, alumni, and “selected others,” according to the statement. The search committee is also accepting letters via e-mail at or by postal mail to Loeb House, 17 Quincy St.

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