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Undergrads Seek Role in Presidential Search

Undergraduate Council President Yasmin Z. Sachee '18 and Vice President Cameron K. Khansarinia '18, pictured here at a UC meeting, are seeking an expanded role for students in the search for Harvard's next president.
Undergraduate Council President Yasmin Z. Sachee '18 and Vice President Cameron K. Khansarinia '18, pictured here at a UC meeting, are seeking an expanded role for students in the search for Harvard's next president. By Derek G. Xiao
By Hannah Natanson, Crimson Staff Writer

The leaders of the Undergraduate Council requested an expanded student role in the search for University President Drew G. Faust’s successor in an email sent Friday morning to the senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.

In the email sent to William F. Lee ’72, the Boston lawyer who leads the Corporation, UC President Yasmin Z. Sachee ’18 and Vice President Cameron K. Khansarinia ’18 also asked for a meeting with Lee to discuss the search process, Khansarinia said.

Their petition comes two days after Faust announced she plans to step down from the presidency in June 2018. Khansarinia said he and Sachee do not yet have specific demands, and Lee had not responded to the email as of Saturday morning.

Across three separate presidential searches, the structure of the search committee has remained the same—six Corporation fellows and three members of the Board of Overseers, the University’s second-highest governing body. The Corporation has yet to publish the setup of this year’s committee.

“In the coming weeks, the Corporation will assemble a search committee, and we will have more to say about that process,” Lee wrote in an email to Harvard affiliates sent June 14, the same day Faust revealed her decision to resign.

Debate over the level of student input roiled Harvard’s campus during the presidential search of 2000, with undergraduates and graduate students alike decrying their exclusion from the process. When the next presidential search rolled around in 2006, administrators announced the formation of student and faculty advisory committees to advise the search committee—an unprecedented step in Harvard’s history.

It is not yet clear whether Harvard officials intend to reinstate the advisory committees.

Khansarinia said he would like to see the student advisory group play a more active role in this year’s search. He suggested students in the group might provide regular reports to the presidential search committee, or at least have “increased contact” with committee members.

Still, Khansarinia said he would be surprised to see students on the search committee itself.

“That’s a pretty big step,” Khansarinia said. “We want to have students have as active a role as possible. However, given what goes into being on that committee—Overseers flying all over the country to meet candidates, having [former University President Lawrence H. Summers] snuck into a presidential suite—I just think logistically it’s a bit difficult.”

“That said, if Mr. Lee wants to put students on this committee, I’m certain we could find students, and appropriate students, to fill the role,” he added.

Khansarinia pointed out that both Stanford and Princeton have placed undergraduates on their presidential selection committees in the past.

Other undergraduates were less circumspect in their calls for student involvement. UC treasurer Nicholas D. Boucher ’19 said he would “love” to see College students named to the presidential search committee, though he also called the scenario “unlikely.”

“I think you’ll find that Harvard College students are most often those that get the most media attention and go on to do great things, [and] one thing I’ve always found to be true is that the wisdom and general knowledge of College students seems to be often beyond their years,” Boucher said. “With all of that in mind, it seems important to take students into account.”

Former Honor Council member Jake H. Hummer ’17 and current UC member Eduardo A. Gonzalez ’18 went a step further, insisting students deserve spots on the presidential search committee.

Gonzalez said he thinks the inclusion of even one undergraduate would “greatly benefit” the search and the University as a whole. Hummer argued such a move would also benefit Harvard’s next president.

“It would give the president that is chosen a higher level of legitimacy,” he said. “It would be a student mandate.”

As they look ahead to Harvard’s next president, Sachee and Khansarinia are not neglecting its current one. On Monday, the two plan to send a note to Faust thanking her “for her service and incredible leadership over the past decade,” Khansarinia said.

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