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Search Panel Pares Shortlist to a Handful

Scientist could join the 4 administrators at the front of the pack

By Javier C. Hernandez and Daniel J. T. Schuker, Crimson Staff Writerss

The group charged with finding Harvard's next president is preparing to begin final-round interviews, with Stanford Provost John W. Etchemendy, Radcliffe Institute Dean Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan, and University of Cambridge chief Alison F. Richard among the names being most seriously considered by the committee, according to two individuals familiar with the group's activities.

A dark horse candidate could still yet emerge, and the committee is looking to add at least one prominent scientist to its list of finalists, according to the two individuals. The scientists in consideration include Thomas R. Cech, a 1989 Nobel laureate in chemistry and president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Steven Chu, a 1997 Nobel laureate in physics at Stanford who directs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; biologist Eric S. Lander, director of the Harvard-MIT Broad Institute; and chemist Mark S. Wrighton, chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis and a former MIT provost.

The committee's renewed look at top scientists comes as the University seeks to revitalize its science offerings with an expansion into Allston and the creation of interdisciplinary science initiatives. The last scientist to serve as president was James Bryant Conant ’14, a chemist who led Harvard from 1933 to 1953.

The group of top contenders is not a definitive list, the sources said, and other candidates could still be taken into serious consideration as the committee proceeds.

Final interviews are set to begin this month. The committee hopes to name its choice in early February, although the announcement could be moved up to the end of January if the committee quickly reaches a decision—or pushed back to March if the group's progress slows, according to the two sources and another individual also familiar with the committee's activities.

In a marked change from the presidential search of 2000-2001, the committee has decided this time to place a greater emphasis on vetting candidates in the final stages of the search, according to three sources who have spoken with committee members. The committee members feel the '00-'01 search panel spent too much time whittling down the list of candidates and not enough time vetting the final few, the three individuals said.

In recent days, members of the search committee have swooped in and out of Cambridge, hosting informal chats with Kagan, Faust, and another named candidate, University Provost Steven E. Hyman, two of the sources said.

While many informed observers have long considered Kagan a leading candidate for the presidency, the two sources said that some members of the committee currently view her as a relatively weaker contender compared with other candidates.

Kagan, 46, has led the Law School for just three and a half years. She has spent only about 11 years in academic positions—she first joined Chicago's law faculty in 1991 but left for four years to work in the Clinton White House.

By contrast, Etchemendy, 54, has served as Stanford's provost since 2000 and has been on the school's faculty for 24 years. Faust, 59, began teaching at Penn more than three decades ago. Richard, 58, joined the Yale faculty in 1972 and was the school's provost for nearly nine years.

Hyman, 54, who was deputy to ousted Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers and continues to serve as provost under Interim President Derek C. Bok, is not seen as a likely choice by some members of the committee, according to one of the sources.

The Crimson granted anonymity to the sources because the committee's work is considered confidential and the individuals' relationships with the committee members would be compromised if they were named.

Committee members have declined to discuss the search publicly, and University spokesman John D. Longbrake declined to comment Monday night.


Among the scientists, Cech has enjoyed vocal support from former chiefs of other colleges, including former University of Chicago president Hanna H. Gray and former Princeton president William G. Bowen, according to one of the sources. Gray, who also served on the Harvard Corporation from 1997 to 2005, now chairs the trustee board at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, where Cech is president. Interim Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles is also a trustee there.

The search committee is made up of the six fellows of the Harvard Corporation, the University's executive body, as well as three members of the Board of Overseers, Harvard's other governing body. In order for a president to be elected, he or she must receive the Corporation fellows' support, followed by a vote of approval from Harvard's 30-member Board of Overseers.

The Corporation is scheduled to hold regular meetings next Tuesday, Jan. 16, and on Feb. 5, and the Overseers are set to convene on Feb. 2 and 3.

The two most prominent candidates not currently on Harvard's payroll, Etchemendy and Richard, have both issued statements that suggest they may not be available for a move to Harvard—even though sources close to the committee have said that the group is not paying attention to candidates' publicly stated interest or disinterest in the presidency.

Etchemendy wrote in an e-mail in September that he had "no intention or desire to leave my current position, which I believe is the best position in higher education." He told The Stanford Daily last weekend, "My feelings haven’t changed," adding, "I’m sure there are equally qualified and much more appropriate candidates for the position."

Richard's office said last month that she "remains deeply committed to Cambridge and does not consider herself a candidate for the Presidency of Harvard."

Faust and Chu have declined to comment on the search, and Cech, Lander, and Wrighton did not return requests for comment on Monday.

Kagan has also declined to comment, although Law School spokesman Michael A. Armini said recently that she is "focused like a laser beam on being dean of the Law School."

Other presidential contenders that the committee has considered include Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger; former Harvard Provost Harvey V. Fineberg ’67, now president of the Institute of Medicine; University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann ’71; Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons; and Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman. Two sources said that those candidates are no longer in serious contention. But the committee may not yet have ruled out Tufts University President Lawrence S. Bacow, one of the sources said.

The search committee presented the Board of Overseers with a private list of 30 candidates early last month. According to several sources close to search committee members, however, the committee was only seriously considering a dozen or so of those nominees at the time.

Reports by The Crimson and The Boston Globe verified 22 of the names on the list, including Duke University President Richard H. Brodhead; Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Syracuse University; Kim B. Clark ’74, former Harvard Business School dean and now president of Brigham Young University-Idaho; Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan; Steven Knapp , provost of Johns Hopkins University; David W. Oxtoby '72, president of Pomona College; Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; and Harold E. Varmus, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center president and 1989 Nobel laureate in medicine.

Other mentioned candidates who have not been confirmed to be on the committee's short list include University of California President Robert C. Dynes, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson, Cornell Provost Carolyn “Biddy” Martin, Amherst College President Anthony W. Marx, and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace President Jessica Tuchman Mathews ’67.

—Aditi Banga, Stephanie S. Garlow, and Brittney L. Moraski contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Javier C. Hernandez can be reached at
—Staff writer Daniel J. T. Schuker can be reached at

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