Students, Alumni Call for Greater Involvement in Presidential Search at Panel

Faculty Club
Panelists discuss Harvard's presidential search at an event at the Faculty Club Tuesday. Speakers called for increased student and alumni involvement in the search.
Harvard affiliates called for greater student and alumni involvement in the search for the University’s next president at a panel discussion held Tuesday at the Harvard Faculty Club.

The event comes roughly five months into Harvard’s ongoing search for the successor to University President Drew G. Faust, who plans to step down in June 2018. The panel was hosted by the Harvard India Student Group and the Elephant Society, an “alumni hub that supports people who want to become leaders,” according to member and Harvard Extension School alumnus Anthony P. Sylvester, who helped organize the panel.

Four speakers sat on the panel: Sylvester, Cambridge City Councillor Leland Cheung, Harvard Divinity School graduate Willie Bodrick II, and Martin Bernstein ’20, a member of Our Harvard Can Do Better, a student-run anti-sexual assault advocacy organization.

At the event, attended by roughly 80 Harvard students and alumni, panelists discussed a wide range of topics including sexual assault and student social life. But much of the conversation focused on issues of transparency—both in the search process itself and regarding the backgrounds of potential candidates.

All four panelists said they wished the famously secretive search process—historically conducted behind closed doors—were more transparent. Specifically, panelists called on the presidential search committee, which is made up of all 12 members of the Harvard Corporation and three members of the Board of Overseers, to publish a list of potential candidates.


Cheung added, though, that he thinks a certain level of opacity is necessary to conduct the search properly.

“Having been on search committees myself, there are reasons you can’t put that list out there,” he said. “The transparency that we’d like isn’t necessarily possible for legitimate reasons.”

In lieu of making the process more open, panelists argued Harvard students and alumni should voice their opinions about the search more frequently to ensure the search committee understands what University affiliates want to see in the 29th president.

Senior Fellow of the Harvard Corporation William F. Lee '72, who is leading the search committee, said in an interview last month that the committee has received over 700 suggestions for candidates.

Sylvester also urged attendees to examine the backgrounds of potential presidential candidates so they can give better-informed opinions to the search committee. He particularly suggested students look into Business School Dean Nitin Nohria, whom several prominent donors and professors have named a likely contender for the presidency.

Lee has repeatedly declined to comment on the number or identity of candidates the committee is considering.

In addition to discussing the search process, panelists debated likely challenges the next president will face. In particular, Cheung mentioned the College’s controversial policy penalizing members of unrecognized single-gender social groups.

The Corporation voted last week to uphold the sanctions, which bar members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations from campus leadership positions, varsity athletic team captaincies, and from receiving College endorsement for prestigious fellowships. But the policy may be under fire—Republican legislation currently before the U.S. House of Representatives could bar Harvard from enforcing its penalties.

“Harvard needs to take responsibility making sure that these students conform to the morals of the society,” Cheung said at the panel. “I think that’s a big challenge the next president going forward faces."

Bernstein also listed the University’s sexual assault policy and issues of sexual harassment on campus as items he hopes the next president will prioritize. Harvard’s annual report on sexual harassment prevention and response, released Tuesday, showed that the number of formal complaints of sexual harassment Harvard affiliates filed increased by 65 percent during the 2016-2017 academic year.

—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at Follow her on twitter@lucyyloo22

—Staff writer Luke W. Xu can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @duke_of_luke_


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