Social Science Chairs Meet with Presidential Search Committee Representatives

University President Drew G. Faust
Harvard is currently in the process of finding University President Drew G. Faust's replacement.

Departmental chairs in the Social Sciences division met with two members of a Faculty presidential search advisory committee on Thursday, according to several chairs of Social Science departments.

The committee—led by Arts and Humanities Dean Robin Kelsey, who attended Thursday’s meeting, along with Biology professor Hopi Hoekstra—was formed in August. It will work with the search committee that will ultimately pick current University President Drew G. Faust’s successor.

While the chairs from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences discussed their preferences for a presidential candidate, they agreed from the outset not to bring up names of specific candidates for the job, according to Gary Urton, chair of the Anthropology department.

“This is such a high profile search, and anyone whose name is mentioned is going to be someone well-known, and if the name is put out there in the open it could cause all sorts of concern,” he said.


Urton said that the Trump presidency and diversity were among the issues the professors said are crucial for the search committee to consider.

Since Trump took office in January, Faust has stepped up her lobbying efforts, meeting with members of Congress about undocumented students at Harvard, federal support for research funding, and a hypothetical tax on University endowments. And, while Faust was the first female president in Harvard’s history, the school has yet to have a President who is not white.

Urton said that some of his colleagues at the meeting raised the concern that no Faculty members are a part of the body that has the ultimate authority to choose the president. He said, however, that after the conversation he felt that Faculty will have a voice in the process.

“I, at least, came away with the sense that, while we won’t be making the decision, they have been really intent on eliciting faculty opinions, faculty voices, faculty concerns,” he said.

Faculty representation in the selection of Harvard’s president has historically been a point of contention for some professors. Faculty did not have a formal role in the search process until 2006, when a faculty advisory committee was formed during the presidential search that lead to Faust’s selection.

Urton said that discord between former University President Lawrence H. Summers and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences highlights the importance of including faculty voices.

“We saw in the recent case of Larry Summers that if there’s a tension between the Faculty and the president, it’s not helpful to anybody,” he said. “I think everybody wants to avoid that situation.”

As was the case with Faust, a former dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the next President could come from within the University. Urton said that the the Social Science chairs did not explicitly discuss a preference for internal or external candidates, but that there was general agreement that it would be easier if the person knew Harvard well because of its “idiosyncratic” bureaucracy.

Urton said Kelsey and Hoekstra did not express plans to come to another meeting of Social Science chairs or to meet with chairs individually.

—Staff writer Mia C. Karr can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @miackarr.


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