Students Must Advise, Not Select

Membership on the presidential search committee is not essential in ensuring student input

Over the years, Harvard presidential search committees have had to actively work to ensure that students have an input in their secretive selection process. During the search in 2000 that selected Lawrence H. Summers as University President, there was no formalized way for incorporating student voices in the process. When the search committee reconvened in 2006 to select Summers’s successor, the question of student input was reopened. In reaction, the presidential search committee announced that they would be working with a student advisory committee to bring a student perspective to the selection process. Their precedent has had a lasting impact, given that 18 students representing all 12 of Harvard’s schools have been selected to advise the ongoing search.

Some critics have worried about the influence that student advisory committees have as mere advisors to the presidential search committee. Some have gone as far as to suggest that students should serve directly on the search committee. While student advisory committees are not a foolproof way of ensuring student input, we believe it would be misguided for students to serve directly on the search committee itself.

Students will inevitably be influenced by the policies that the next leader of Harvard takes, but they do not have the administrative knowledge required to choose an appropriate successor to current University President Drew G. Faust. Undergraduates especially are not trained in higher education administration or other general forms of management. Many of the members chosen to serve on the presidential committee have worked at universities and in management positions themselves, bringing knowledge and experience that students simply do not possess before entering the workforce.

In addition, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, the University’s highest and second-highest governing body, respectively, are better positioned to bring a clearer look at the issues that Harvard will face in its future. While students’ experiences should be a critical consideration, the individual chosen to lead this University will also be tasked with issues of fundraising, overseeing the expansion into Allston, and national lobbying efforts that transcend the experience of any student.

That said, student input in selecting the next leader is essential. We wholeheartedly support the appointment of the student advisory committee and we hope that their perspectives carry significant weight in the search. We hope that the input given by advisory committees is actually taken into account—after all, given the secrecy of the process, student concerns could be ignored and few would be the wiser. To that end, we hope that increased transparency will ensure student voices are being heard and their suggestions implemented. The President of Harvard University should serve students, and although having them directly choose the President is not essential, hearing their voices is.


This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.


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