On a search committee of rookies, Susan L. Graham ’64 stands out: Only she and William F. Lee '72 have been through the process of selecting a Harvard president.
A professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Berkeley, Graham was a member of the Board of Overseers trio that joined the Corporation during the search that resulted in now-University President Drew G. Faust’s selection.
“She had, I’m sure, a very powerful voice there,” prominent donor Paul A. Buttenwieser ’60 said. “She has a long and broad and deep experience with Harvard governance.” Buttenwieser was Graham’s “classmate” on the Board of Overseers—the two were elected to the same six-year term.
Long before she would join the Corporation or the Board of Overseers, Graham was an undergraduate at Radcliffe studying mathematics. She later moved across the country to teach in California, and became the first female faculty member in Berkeley’s College of Engineering.
Her commitment to Harvard over the decades led her to become president of the Board of Overseers in 2006. She played a major role in the formation of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, which had formerly been a division in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Buttenwieser said Graham can bring a “computer scientist’s view” to the search—a particularly important perspective as Harvard seeks to bolster its engineering programs. The next president will more than likely oversee SEAS’s long-delayed relocation to its new Allston campus in 2020.
“It’s wonderful to have her voice—obviously somebody from the field of computer science, which is an area we’re making a huge investment in both financially and institutionally,” Buttenwieser said.
Graham hasn’t publicly said what she’s looking for in candidates this time around. But she has said that the next president likely won’t be a “clone” of Faust.
“An institution always benefits from some amount of change,” Graham said in a September interview.
Reflecting on selecting Faust in 2006, Graham said in a September interview that there is never a “perfect candidate.”
“She was a very good candidate, and in my mind, a lot of that came from the Radcliffe Institute experience,” Graham said, referring to Faust’s handling of Radcliffe alumni tensions in light of the merger, and her handling of the Institute’s financial issues as its dean.
Graham praised Faust for encouraging collaboration “across boundaries,” since university academics have traditionally been siloed, she said.
“I would like to see that continued, because I think some of the most exciting research and teaching comes from crossing traditional boundaries,” Graham said.
A leading voice in the computer science world, Graham was a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery in the 1990s, and is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LeahYared.