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Harvard Corporation to Review Presidential Search Process as Faculty Demand Transparency

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The Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing board, will review its presidential search process and consider recommendations on how it can be improved ahead of the formal search for Harvard’s 31st president.

Senior Fellow Penny S. Pritzker ’81 told faculty members at a Tuesday town hall that the body had convened a subcommittee tasked with evaluating the presidential search process, according to three attendees. These people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were asked to keep the town hall’s proceedings strictly confidential.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain confirmed the subgroup’s formation but declined to comment on its composition or intended timeline.

The review follows widespread criticisms of the Corporation’s handling of the 30th presidential search, after former Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned under pressure from the Corporation after just one semester in office.

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Faculty members have also criticized the presidential search process as overly exclusive and secretive, calling for increased transparency and consultation in the selection.

The review of how Harvard selects its presidents comes as respondents to The Crimson’s annual Faculty of Arts and Sciences survey said they had lost confidence in the University’s governing boards.

More than 49 percent of respondents said they were not confident that the Corporation could pick a president who would steady the school after a rocky winter.

In addition, 79.8 percent of respondents desired increased transparency from the Corporation and 76.5 percent of respondents believed faculty are not consulted enough during presidential searches.

The search process also faced harsh criticism after Gay was accused of plagiarism in December — and subsequently submitted seven corrections across her dissertation and scholarly works to add citations.

Both affiliates and external observers raised concerns at the time, saying the University should have reviewed candidates’ scholarship more thoroughly. The Crimson reported in February that the Corporation had not conducted a scholarly review of Gay’s work during the search.

The four months since Gay stepped down mark the lengthiest delay in starting a presidential search in decades, but the ongoing subcommittee review indicates that the Corporation is content to leave interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 in his post for a lengthy period of time.

Pritzker all but confirmed as much during the Tuesday town hall. People in attendance said she effusively praised Garber and said the governing boards have full confidence in the University’s interim leader.

Pritzker’s strong support for Garber raised the possibility that the governing boards might forgo a presidential search altogether and install him as the University’s permanent 31st president.

Harvard’s presidential searches are typically carried out by search committees composed of all 12 fellows of the Corporation and three members of the Harvard Board of Overseers, the University’s second-highest governing body.

Past search committees consulted with small advisory groups of students, faculty, and staff. In previous searches, affiliates have been asked to nominate potential candidates via a form.

Though the advisory committee consults with the faculty at large and shares their input, faculty members generally do not receive candidate names or a timeline of the process while the search is ongoing — a longstanding point of frustration.

Apart from advisory meetings, the search committee’s work is generally conducted in secret — from the time that the committee is announced to the appointment of a new president.

Clarification: May 1, 2024

This article has been updated to clarify the faculty’s specfic frustrations with the lack of transparency in Harvard’s presidential searches.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at tilly.robinson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @tillyrobin.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at neil.shah@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @neilhshah15.

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