Precedent-Setting Presidential Search

The search for a successor to President Lawrence H. Summers will involve expanded outreach to the Harvard community. In a March 30 news release, the University announced that, consistent with past practice, the Corporation had formed a search committee comprising its six members other than the president, plus three Overseers. But beyond encouraging faculty, students, staff, and alumni to weigh in through letters and private conversations, the committee will conduct its business in two new ways.

• Meetings, there and here. The committee “plans to consult with alumni in a series of meetings, at various locations beyond Cambridge and Boston as well as locally,” to assure that it hears a variety of perspectives. (Alumni groups already scheduled to meet locally will also be able to devote time to discussing the search, and the Board of Overseers will play a “key consultative role” directly and as a further channel through which alumni can communicate.)

• Advisory bodies. The Corporation will appoint two advisory groups—of faculty and of students—“from a broad cross-section of the University.” Their chairs, and the president of the Harvard Alumni Association, will “sit with the search committee from time to time,” and representatives of the search committee will “periodically attend” meetings of the advisory groups. These efforts are intended to convey ideas about Harvard’s opportunities and challenges to the search committee, and to help frame the questions the committee should have in mind as it evaluates nominees.

These measures create a mechanism for broader input in the search without making alumni, faculty, and students formal participants in the process; they also recognize the increasingly broad geographic scope of the Harvard community.

The Overseer members of the search committee are Frances D. Fergusson, Ph.D. ’73, president of Vassar College; Susan L. Graham ’64, Chen distinguished professor in electrical engineering and computer science, University of California, Berkeley; and William F. Lee ’72, co-managing partner of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, a law firm. Comments on the search can be sent in confidence to or by mail to Harvard University Presidential Search Committee, Loeb House, 17 Quincy Street, Cambridge 02138.

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