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Presidential Search Narrows to Under 20 Candidates

The Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers often meet in Loeb House, pictured here in 2017.
The Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers often meet in Loeb House, pictured here in 2017. By Derek G. Xiao
By Hannah Natanson and Leah S. Yared, Crimson Staff Writers

The committee searching for Harvard’s next president has winnowed its list of candidates to under 20 names, according to three individuals with knowledge of the search.

The 15-member committee is currently narrowing that list and will pare it down further in coming weeks, according to individuals close to the search. The Crimson granted the sources anonymity to discuss confidential information about the search for the University’s 29th president.

Harvard Corporation senior fellow William F. Lee ’72, who chairs the search committee, declined to comment on the number of candidates the committee is currently considering. He also declined to comment on the committee’s timeline for choosing the next president.

The search committee—comprising all 12 members of the Harvard Corporation and three members of the Board of Overseers—has been seeking the successor to University Drew G. Faust for almost six months. The body formed about two weeks after Faust announced she plans to step down in June 2018.

Since its formation, the committee has received nearly 700 unique nominations for the presidency, Lee said in an interview in November. He also said the committee planned to begin “phase two” of its search process—meaning it would start slimming down its hundreds-strong list of nominations—by the end of December.

Committee members, including Lee, have repeatedly declined to comment on the search’s progress, but Harvard alumni and professors told The Crimson last month there are four contenders from within the University likely to make the shortlist: Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria, Government professor Danielle S. Allen, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith, and University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76. Nohria, Allen, Smith, and Garber have all declined to comment on their possible candidacies.

[Want to know who the 15 people searching for Harvard’s next president are? Read profiles of the search committee members here.]

The closed-mouth approach taken by likely candidates and committee members this year mirrors tactics pursued by players in previous searches—Harvard presidential searches are famously secretive, conducted mostly behind closed doors and out of the public eye. The committee’s progress in narrowing its list of potential candidates to under 20 by mid-December also mirrors timelines followed in the past three searches.

In the 1991 search for Harvard’s president, that year’s iteration of the search committee winnowed its candidate field to about 20 by early December; in the 2001 search, the committee slimmed the field to between 30 to 40 candidates by early January; and in the 2007 search, the committee pared to a list of 30 by Dec. 4.

As they seek to narrow their candidate list, search committee members took time to fly into Cambridge for a meeting of the Corporation and the Board of Overseers—the University’s highest and second-highest governing bodies—over the weekend of Dec. 3. At that meeting, the Corporation voted to uphold the College’s controversial penalties on members of single-gender social groups.

Clad in winter coats and crossing the green lawn in front of Loeb House on their way to and from meetings Dec. 4, at least eight members of the search committee declined to answer questions from Crimson reporters on whether they planned to discuss the presidential search that day.

Approached by a Crimson reporter in the lobby of a hotel in downtown Boston hours after the Dec. 4 meeting concluded, Corporation and search committee member Theodore V. Wells, Jr. also declined to comment.

“You came all the way down here and you know I can’t comment,” he said.

—Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.

—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @LeahYared.

—Crimson editors Derek K. Choi, Andrew M. Duehren, Caroline S. Engelmayer, C. Ramsey Fahs, Kristine E. Guillaume, Jamie D. Halper, Claire E. Parker, Lucy Wang, Derek G. Xiao, Michael E. Xie, and Luke Xu contributed to the reporting of this story.

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