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2 Months After Gay’s Resignation, Harvard Has Not Announced a Presidential Search Committee

Two months after Claudine Gay's resignation from the Harvard presidency, the University has not announced a presidential search committee.
Two months after Claudine Gay's resignation from the Harvard presidency, the University has not announced a presidential search committee. By Sami E. Turner
By Emma H. Haidar and Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writers

Two months after Claudine Gay’s abrupt departure from the Harvard presidency, the University seems to be in no hurry to choose her successor.

Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow Penny S. Pritzker ’81 still has not announced a presidential search committee to select the University’s 31st president, a delay that breaks from recent University tradition.

During the past two presidential searches, search committees were named within one month of the incumbent president’s announcement of their intention to step down. But as Harvard approaches its spring break, the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — has provided no indication that an announcement of a committee is imminent.

In a University-wide email minutes after Gay’s announced her resignation, the Corporation appointed longtime University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 to temporarily fill the top job, writing that a search for a permanent successor would begin “in due course.”

Since then, the board has revealed nothing else about its plans for the 31st presidential search.

Still, there are signs that the Corporation has begun to lay the groundwork before it formally begins the process of looking for a new leader.

The University announced that Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 will take a leave from his post at HLS to serve as interim provost. Last month, the Corporation also elected two new members to join its ranks.

Harvard’s presidential search committees have typically been composed of all 12 Fellows of the Corporation and three members of the Board of Overseers, the University’s second highest governing body.

When Gay resigned on Jan. 2, the Corporation was one member short with another set to retire in June. The additions of longtime pharmaceutical executive Kenneth C. Frazier and private equity billionaire Joseph Y. Bae ’94 helped the board clear a major hurdle before it could announce a search committee.

The three search committee roles filled by Overseers present another challenge for the University.

The president of the Board of Overseers has served on Harvard’s past four presidential search committees, but the Overseers typically do not appoint a president until late May or early April.

Current Board of Overseers President Meredith L. “Max” Hodges ’03 will step down from the board this summer at the end of her six-year term. If she were tapped to serve on the presidential search committee, Hodges would either need to depart the search committee midway through the process or remain a searcher past the end of her term — both awkward options.

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in a statement that the Corporation “will update the community on the presidential search process, which will include broad engagement and consultation with the Harvard community.”

Beyond logistical considerations, experts said that there are other factors that might incentivize the University to take its time before announcing a search committee.

William G. Tierney, a professor emeritus at the University of Southern California who specializes in higher education governance, said Harvard will likely wait until public scrutiny starts to fade.

“I would not be surprised if the board tries to do a search as quietly as possible,” Tierney said. “That probably means that they would announce a search in the summer, when there are fewer people around.”

“You want less attention rather than more attention,” he added.

Paul Reville, a professor of education policy and administration at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said waiting to establish a search is necessary for a deeper evaluation of what went wrong.

“It would be wise to take some time before commencing a search after the tumultuous events of the past several months,” Reville said, “to give some real thought to what kind of leadership does the campus need after this upheaval that we’ve had and with continuing pressure of various kinds — both internal and external.”

Tierney said that regardless of whether the Corporation announces a new president this fall or winter, he would expect them to take office in July 2025. Under that timeline, Garber would serve as interim president for one and a half years.

Reville also said the University should seriously consider adopting a more transparent process for the upcoming search, including conducting some deliberations publicly “so people understand how the governing board is thinking about these things rather than it being a mystery.”

While he said some elements of the committee’s function — like deliberation on specific candidates — should happen behind closed doors, “to a certain extent, the Corporation has been at the opposite extreme.

“Nobody really knows anything about what procedes,” Reville added. “I think a little bit more fresh air, light, and visibility to the deliberations would be helpful.”

Tierney agreed that greater transparency should be considered before starting the search.

“You’ve got to be open, to a degree, in a way that this board has not been,” Tierney said. “And you’ve got to be competent in it in a way that the board has not been.”

Correction: March 5, 2024

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that William Tierney was a professor emeritus at UCLA. In fact, he is a professor emeritus at the University of Southern California.

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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