The Search, Explained

Harvard is seeking its 29th president. The Crimson explains exactly what that means.
By The Crimson News Staff

Harvard is seeking its 29th president. Ever since University President Drew G. Faust announced over the summer she plans to step down in June 2018, a specially convened presidential search committee has been hunting for her successor. The secretive, months-long search will chart the University’s course for decades to come.

So who’s searching?

The presidential search committee comprises 15 people: all 12 members of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, and three members of the Board of Overseers, the second-highest governing body. Corporation Senior Fellow William F. Lee '72 is leading the committee, which formed in June.

What has the committee done so far?

For the first couple of months, the searchers gathered information—talking to hundreds of Harvard affiliates and reviewing nearly 700 nominations for potential presidents. Some alumni called on the committee to consider a diverse slate of candidates; until Faust, all of Harvard’s presidents have been white men.

In September, committee members started jetting in to Cambridge to meet behind closed doors at Loeb House, the Corporation’s chandelier-filled stomping grounds at Harvard. In December, The Crimson reported the committee had narrowed its shortlist to fewer than 20 candidates.

Who is on the shortlist?

Alums and faculty say likely Harvard-employed candidates include Provost Alan M. Garber '76, Business School Dean Nitin Nohria, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith, and Government professor Danielle S. Allen. In December, Harvard Medical School Dean George Q. Daley '82 named Broad Institute President Eric S. Lander, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, and University of Michigan President Mark S. Schlissel as potential contenders as well.

The Crimson reported in January that Kim is in contact with the search committee—and that he is debating the pros and cons of accepting Harvard’s top job with close friends and advisers. Kim wrote in an emailed statement that he is “completely committed” to his job at the World Bank.

Why is the search so secret?

Harvard presidential searches are famous for their secrecy. Experts say the total confidentiality is meant in part to protect candidates from being perceived as disloyal to their current jobs.

Past search committees did everything they could to keep the names of shortlist candidates confidential—interviewing contenders in posh New York hotels and committee members’ homes to evade reporters. Searchers even snuck possible presidents up back-service stairways and through underground garages for interviews. Despite these efforts, The Crimson scooped the presidential pick in the last three searches: Neil L. Rudenstine in 1991, Lawrence H. Summers in 2001, and Faust in 2007.

This year’s iteration of the search committee has been no less secretive. Searchers have repeatedly declined to comment publicly on the search. In early January, members of the committee convened in private at the Belmont, Mass. home of a searcher, spending almost the whole day in closeted discussions as they prepare to make a final choice in the coming weeks.

When will the search committee make its final pick?

With the search now approaching its eighth month, the committee is likely interviewing top contenders, according to experts. If history is any guide, the committee will make its final choice in February or March.

What’s in store for Harvard’s 29th president?

Faust’s successor will face a number of challenges: overseeing Harvard’s expansion into Allston, navigating an increasingly global role, and implementing the College’s penalties on single-gender social groups. Harvard’s 29th president will become the new face not just of Harvard, but of higher education around the world.

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