President Search To Include Students

Search committee will seek input from students and faculty advisers

Harvard officials announced Thursday that students and faculty will have a formal role in the selection of University President Lawrence H. Summers’ successor­—a move that comes five years after students decried their exclusion from the last presidential search.

There are still no students or Harvard faculty members on the nine-person presidential search committee unveiled Thursday. The committee comprises the six members of the Harvard Corporation-the University’s highest governing board—as well as an art historian, a computer scientist, and a trial lawyer, all three of whom serve on the Corporation’s sister body, the Board of Overseers.

But the search committee will seek official input from student and faculty advisory committees, according to a statement from the University. That marks the first time, at least in recent memory, that students and professors have had any formal involvement in the presidential search process.

The search committee will also consult with alumni “at various locations beyond Cambridge and Boston as well as locally,” according to the statement.

The announcement suggests that the Corporation members, who rarely make public appearances on Harvard’s campus, are responding to critics who say that University governance is too secretive.

Corporation members spoke with several department chairs and other Faculty of Arts and Sciences members in the run-up to Summers’ resignation. But some professors at the University’s professional schools had complained that the Corporation, the only body with the authority to fire and hire a president, failed to reach out to the broader Harvard community in considering Summers’ fate.


More than a year after Summers delivered his now-infamous speech examining the under-representation of women in the upper echelons of science and engineering, a female professor of electrical engineering and computer science will help choose Summers’ successor. Susan L. Graham ’64 teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, and she has served on Harvard’s Board of Overseers since 2001.

Two of the search committee members have served as college chiefs themselves. Frances D. Fergusson, who holds a doctorate in art history from Harvard, has been the president of Vassar College, a 2,500-student school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., for nearly two decades (she is set to retire from her post in June). She joined the Board of Overseers in 2002.

The other former college head on the committee is Corporation member Nannerl O. Keohane, a past president of Wellesley College and Duke University. A lawyer who specializes in intellectual property litigation, William F. Lee ’72, will also hold a spot on the committee. Lee was an aide to the independent counsel who investigated Reagan administration officials’ involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal, and he is now the co-managing partner of the law firm WilmerHale. He joined the Board of Overseers in 2002.

The longest-serving member of the Harvard Corporation, James R. Houghton ‘58, will chair the search committee. Houghton, the only member of the Corporation to have served on the search committee that selected Summers five years ago, is also the chairman of the glass and fiber-optic cable manufacturer Corning.

“Seeking a new president is obviously a matter of crucial importance to the University, and we hope to benefit from the perspectives of the many people who care about Harvard,” Houghton said in a statement.

The other members of the Corporation are economist Robert D. Reischauer ’63, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office; investment manager James F. Rothenberg ’68; and Robert E. Rubin ’60, who preceded Summers as Treasury secretary.

Georgetown law professor Patricia A. King, who is set to join the Corporation in May, will also serve on the search committee.

Calls to members of the search committee on Friday were not returned.

Summers’ temporary replacement—former University President Derek C. Bok—will lead Harvard beginning on July 1 and until a permanent successor is named.

As interim president, Bok is expected to assume his seat as the seventh member of the Corporation, but his name was not on the list of search committee members unveiled Thursday. In recent searches, the outgoing president has not served on the committee that selected his successor.


The search committee will meet with the chairs of both the faculty and student advisory groups, along with the president of the Harvard Alumni Association, “from time to time,” and search committee members will frequently attend meetings of the advisory groups, according to Thursday’s statement.

The chair of the Undergraduate Council’s Student Affairs Committee, Ryan A. Petersen ’08, called the absence of students on the selection committee “a blow to the legitimacy of the process” in an e-mail last night.                

“Having students consulted is great, but, until they are in the room during   selection, students and their interests will never be given their rightful place as the priorities of the President and Corporation,” he wrote.           

The Council has not yet been told how students will be selected for the advisory committee, according to Petersen, though “we have been assured that the Undergraduate Council will be consulted.” 

Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz, who criticized the Corporation in February for failing to consult more widely with the University community, said on Friday that the effectiveness of the new attempt to reach out would depend on the process by which the committee members are chosen.

“I think the real question is how they select faculty members, whether it’s done by democratic means or whether it’s done in an elitist way,” he said.
The statement did not specify how the Corporation will select the members of the committees, but according to Harvard spokesman Joseph Wrinn, “There will be more to say on the subject shortly.”

Andrew Schlesinger, a historian of Harvard who believes the Corporation erred in its choice of Summers five years ago, wrote in an e-mail that the announcement of the two advisory committees is aimed at “taking the heat off the Corporation.”

“The Corporation is going to bend over backwards to include as many people in the selection process so everybody will feel invested in the success of the person,” he wrote.

Under the University’s 1650 charter, the Corporation must also seek the counsel of the 30 members of the Board of Overseers, who are elected by a vote of Harvard alumni, in choosing the new president.

The committee maintains the same structure that was employed for Harvard’s last two presidential searches. In 2001, the presidential search committee chose Summers after nine months of deliberation.

During that process, representatives of the search committee met with students in small, informal groups. Members of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society, the Undergraduate Council president, the chairs of several House committees, and a half-dozen graduate students all had an audience with search committee representatives in October 2000, The Crimson reported at the time.

Letters soliciting advice on the search will soon be sent to Harvard faculty, students, staff, alumni, and “selected others,” according to the statement. The search committee is also accepting input via e-mail at or by postal mail to Loeb House, 17 Quincy St.

—Daniel J. T. Schuker contributed to the reporting of this story.   
—Staff writer Javier C. Hernandez can be reached at


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