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Harvard to crowdsource Phase 1 of search on President Drew Faust's successor

Harvard University has opened up its secretive process to choose its next leader. The world's most prestigious school for some has flagged off the first phase of this selection to crowdsourcing.

Established in 1636, Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States and has bragging rights for the passage of 48 Nobel Laureates, 32 heads of state and 48 Pulitzer Prize winners through its classrooms.

With less than a year to go before current President Drew Gilpin Faust steps down in June 2018, an email from 'Harvard Presidential Search' dated July 11 has landed in some of the Harvard community’s inboxes around the world with the subject line “request for advice and nominations”.

Harvard President Drew Faust with the Class of 2017/ Reuters pic

Harvard President Drew Faust with the Class of 2017/ Reuters pic

Faust, a well-loved historian specialising in the American South, is the first woman to be Harvard’s president. She was appointed in 2007 and oversaw ambitious expansions to academic programs, fund raising and student diversity after the choppy reign of her predecessor, US treasury secretary, Larry Summers.

In the "request", reviewed by Firstpost, William F. Lee, Senior Fellow of Harvard Corporation has detailed the qualities of a “worthy successor” his committee has been tasked to look for.

Relevant excerpts:

“As you know, Drew Faust recently announced her plans to step down as president at the end of the 2017–18 academic year. She has served Harvard with extraordinary distinction and devotion, guiding the University with a rare combination of vision and energy, aspiration and inspiration, wisdom and grace. Thanks to her remarkable leadership, Harvard is a stronger, more innovative, and more cohesive institution, as well as a more open, inclusive, and forward-looking community. As she enters her final year in Massachusetts Hall, it is now our task to identify a worthy successor.

As those of us on the presidential search committee pursue that consequential effort, we would be pleased to hear from you. In particular, we hope you will share your perspectives on:

- the principal opportunities and challenges likely to face Harvard and higher education in the coming years and the priorities that our new president should have most in mind;
-the qualities and experience most important in the next president;
-any individuals you believe warrant serious consideration as possible candidates.

As in past Harvard presidential searches, we will be seeking a person of high intellectual distinction, with proven qualities of leadership, a devotion to excellence in education and research, a capacity to guide a complex institution through times of change, a commitment to advance progress and collaboration across a wide span of academic domains, and a dedication to the ideals and values central to a community of learning.

Under the University’s charter, it is the responsibility of the Harvard Corporation to elect a new president, with the counsel and consent of the Board of Overseers. Consistent with past practice, the search committee will comprise the members of the Corporation other than the president, together with three Overseers. In addition, to inform our deliberations, we will be appointing several advisory committees—of faculty, students, and staff. With their help, we will be gathering input from a wider array of faculty, students, and staff, as well as from alumni, leaders in higher education, and others well-positioned to offer thoughtful counsel. Our intention is to reach out broadly to benefit from both general advice and specific nominations.”

Your responses to this letter will play an essential part in advancing our work. We hope you will take the time to share your perspectives with us.

The committee will hold your replies in confidence.


William F. Lee
Senior Fellow, Harvard Corporation"

Useful links: The 13 people who make up the Harvard Corporation

Lee's committee includes Scott A. Abell, Lawrence S. Bacow, James W. Breyer, Susan L. Carney, Kenneth I. Chenault, Paul J. Finnegan, Susan L. Graham, Jessica Tuchman Mathews, Karen Gordon Mills, Joseph J. O’Donnell, Tracy P. Palandjian, David M. Rubenstein, Shirley M. Tilghman, Theodore V. Wells, Jr.

So what are the entry barriers, apart from strong academic credentials?

“In all likelihood it’s got to be somehow at the very least an M.A. or probably a Ph.D. and hopefully someone who has actually run a major operation because Harvard is a major business,” former Overseer in the search process Peter Malkin told The Harvard Crimson.

It's early hours yet, but the new (crowdsourcing) methodology has unleashed a cat among the conservative lot. We'll have to wait to see if the results amount to low-brow tokenism. Success, on the other hand, would be a message to academic institutions across the world - to steer clear of political masters and donors. If Faust is indeed succeeded by a nominated-by-the-people president, market regulators will have a mirror to show Global Inc. on rampant translucence over the selection of independent directors. In India, for example, Ajay Tyagi, the new SEBI chief, has questioned the independence of independent directors on public boards.

Updated Date: Jul 12, 2017 05:05 AM

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