Harvard’s next president should serve as a leader not only for the University but also for all of higher education, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said during an interview last week.
Over the course of the roughly hour-long interview, Khurana also laid out his broad thoughts on the ongoing presidential search, which began this summer when University President Drew G. Faust announced plans to step down in June 2018. Since Faust’s announcement, Harvard has mobilized to find her successor, forming a search committee—comprising all twelve members of the Harvard Corporation and three members of the Board of Overseers—and sending committee members across the country to solicit input from various alumni groups.
Khurana declined to say whether the committee has solicited his input, too. But he offered his view of the most important task facing Harvard’s 29th president.
“I think the next president is someone who is not only a leader for Harvard, but is a leader for higher education,” Khurana said last Friday. “I believe that President Faust has really represented that role in an incredible way—she’s played a critical role as a spokesperson for higher education.”
Khurana listed Faust’s efforts to “advance Harvard’s research mission” as an example of her best work in this area. Since the election of President Donald Trump, Faust has ramped up her political advocacy: making lobbying trips to Washington, defending humanities funding in a New York Times op-ed, and overseeing Harvard’s filing of two amicus briefs challenging Trump’s executive orders.
In the interview, Khurana also discussed what he sees as the proper role of students in the search process. Harvard formally created a student advisory committee for the search—composed of 18 students, both undergraduate and graduate—in mid-September.
“I think it’s really important for the student committee to inform students what the President does,” Khurana said. “That’s not always clearly understood among students: what the job of a president of a university is.”
Harvard students have historically played a limited role in presidential searches; this year’s student advisory committee is the second-ever group of its kind in recent memory. Some on campus have already called for greater undergraduate involvement this time around, even suggesting the University add students to the official search committee—as Princeton and Stanford have done in past presidential searches.
Khurana declined to answer a question asking whether he thinks students should sit on the search committee.
That committee is now winnowing its candidate pool—and, according to more than a dozen prominent Harvard alumni and professors, is likely considering Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria, whom Khurana said he considers a close friend. Khurana declined to say whether he thinks Nohria is well-suited for the position in the interview last week.
He also declined to say whether Nohria has expressed interest in the role.
“Dean Nohria is an individual who I have the utmost respect for,” Khurana said. “He shaped me as a student, as a scholar, as a research collaborator, as a mentor. He made me a better person.”
Khurana declined to say whether he thinks Harvard’s next president should come from within the University’s ranks. He also refused to directly answer questions asking whether he had discussed the search with William F. Lee ’72, a Boston lawyer who leads the Corporation, or any other search committee members.
“As Dean of the College, I speak with many people about what is happening at the College, which is part of my regular work,” he said.
—Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.
—Staff writer Derek G. Xiao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @derekgxiao.
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