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Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 said he will not return to his role as provost after the University appoints Claudine Gay’s permanent successor but declined to say whether he would be a candidate in the search.
Garber’s answer indicates that he will either retire after his stint as Harvard’s interim president or take on the role full time.
“I am happy to be serving as interim president at a time when Harvard is facing a number of crises,” Garber said.
“I am happy in my current position,” he added. “I’ll just leave it at that.”
Before his appointment as interim president earlier this year, Garber, 68, served for 12 years as provost — arguably the second-highest position at the University — and was expected to retire in the first years of Gay’s presidency.
Garber is among the most obvious candidates to become Harvard’s 31st president, particularly if the search committee decides the University quickly needs a permanent leader who can provide stability.
While the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — might opt for a candidate who could serve for more than a decade as president, Garber’s comments indicate he has not ruled out a path to becoming Gay’s permanent successor.
Garber did not immediately drop his title as provost when Gay’s shock resignation elevated him to the University’s top post, but in the interview he said that he does not intend to remain provost for much longer.
Garber’s comments about his future plans at Harvard, made during his first interview as interim president, only offer a bit more clarity about how the University will navigate its current leadership crisis.
One of the likeliest administrators to succeed Garber as provost, Deputy Provost Peggy Newell, has served in her current role since 2012.
The presidential search process, however, has not started yet. One month after Gay’s resignation, Senior Fellow Penny S. Pritzker ’81 has not named a presidential search committee or provided any timeline for when to expect one.
An email from the Corporation sent to affiliates minutes after Gay’s resignation which said a search would “begin in due course,” remains the University’s only communication about the process.
In their Jan. 2 email, the Corporation’s fellows, as the board’s members are formally known, said that the search will include “broad engagement and consultation with the Harvard community.”
Past presidential search committees have been composed of the Corporation’s 12 Fellows and three members of the Board of Overseers. Pritzker, as the senior fellow, will spearhead the process.
The Corporation has had a vacancy for more than six months, after billionaire philanthropist David M. Rubenstein stepped down from the board at the end of June. Pritzker will likely want to fill the vacancy before formally launching the presidential search process.
In the interview, Garber said he had no information about the search to fill the Corporation seat.
“The consideration about new Fellows for the Corporation is the province of the governance committee, with whom I have not met since my appointment,” Garber added.
The Corporation has come under intense scrutiny over the past few months for its handling of both plagiarism allegations against Gay and its silence following Gay’s damaging testimony before Congress. Given the Corporation’s decisive control over the presidential search, the process — and the eventual appointment — will likely face the most scrutiny and media attention in recent years.
Searches for Harvard presidents are usually lengthy processes that take close to a year. The Corporation’s five-month search before naming Gay as the University’s 30th president was the fastest search in almost 70 years.
Garber declined to comment if Gay’s selection was too rushed.
“I do think that for the search for a president — just as is true for the search for a dean or any other major leadership position — we should take as much time as we need to get the best possible person,” Garber said.
When asked how Gay’s brief tenure went wrong, Garber said that it would be “inappropriate” for him to comment but maintained that “she had a great deal of judgment and cared a lot about academic standards.”
“I expected her to have a much longer tenure,” he added.
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