UPDATED: December 2, 2021 at 2:20 p.m.
William F. Lee ’72, who holds the top post on the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — is set to leave the board in June after 12 years.
Lee, who ascended to become the Corporation’s senior fellow in 2014, will be the second head of the body to depart due to its 12-year term limit — a reform announced shortly after he joined the group as a general member in 2010. His predecessor, Robert D. Reischauer ’63, agreed to step down at 12 years after those reforms were implemented during his tenure.
Lee, a partner at the law firm WilmerHale, said in an interview Monday that the process to pick his successor is ongoing.
“I’ll be participating in the process, but it needs to be a recommendation that comes from a broader group of folks than just me,” Lee said.
He said the selection process will include other Corporation members and University leaders. The Corporation itself will ultimately vote on its new senior fellow, a move Lee expects to occur before he departs.
Senior fellow is the top position on the Corporation — a 12-member body formally known as the President and Fellows of Harvard College that holds fiduciary responsibility over the University’s finances and operations.
The body instituted a sweeping set of governance reforms in 2010 that grew its membership from six to 12 and established six-year terms and a two-term limit. Lee said Tuesday he was a proponent of the reforms and plans to follow the rules they set.
“To have been one of the people to help implement the governance reforms and to have the governance reforms include term limits, I think it would be a little awkward for me to stay beyond the end of my term limit,” he said.
The reforms also changed the post of senior fellow into an elected position. Previously, the member of the body with the longest tenure was recognized as the senior fellow. Lee, who was the first person elected to head the Corporation, is now its longest-serving member.
Lee said Monday the next senior fellow could come from inside or outside the Corporation’s ranks — “like the Supreme Court.”
“After the governance reforms were implemented — and term-limits were implemented — there has been sort of a constant refreshing of the Corporation over the period of the last decade, with some people going off, some new people coming on,” he said. “Because we had that process, we are constantly in the process of reviewing potential candidates for the Corporation.”
Looking to next semester, Lee said the Corporation’s top priority will be to continue the University’s safe transition back to in-person operations.
“The most important short term responsibility is the public health and safety of the University community,” he said. “In some sense, the Corporation’s job is to ensure that the University has great students, great faculty, and provide a sound financial and physical platform for all of you to do the great work you do."
CORRECTION: December 2, 2021
A previous version of this story misstated that Lee would be the first senior fellow to depart due to its 12-year term limit. In fact, his predecessor, Robert D. Reischauer ’63, agreed to step down at 12 years after the term limit was implemented during his tenure.