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Harvard Alumni Association Moves Ahead with Search for New Executive Director

Harvard alumni process into Tercentenary Theater during the 2013 Commencement Exercises.
Harvard alumni process into Tercentenary Theater during the 2013 Commencement Exercises. By John Y. C. Wang
By Cara J. Chang and Isabella B. Cho, Crimson Staff Writers

University president is not the only top leadership position Harvard is seeking to fill this year.

With three months to go before its longtime executive director steps down, the Harvard Alumni Association is in the middle of a search for its new leader.

Philip W. Lovejoy, who has held the top permanent post at the HAA since 2014, announced in February he will step down in December after serving in a variety of roles across 24 years at Harvard.

The HAA connects over 400,000 living alumni to Harvard and its networks across the globe. Lovejoy’s successor will manage approximately 40 staff members who support alumni programming, including reunions and Harvard Club events.

Lovejoy steered the HAA through its transition to virtual operations during the Covid-19 pandemic. When the organization eased back into in-person programming, it opted to split its reunions and annual meeting from University Commencement festivities, angering some alumni who cherished the longtime tradition of the events being held on the same day.

Harvard has hired prominent executive search firm Isaacson, Miller to help find the next HAA executive director, according to an Aug. 8 email from Brian K. Lee, the vice president of Harvard Alumni Affairs and Development. Founded in 1982, the Boston-based firm specializes in leadership searches for higher education and nonprofits.

Bringing in the firm will help “ensure that the net is cast widely and not confined to just Harvard ‘insiders,’” higher education expert Thomas D. Parker ’64 wrote in an email.

“It’s an important job,” Parker wrote. “They need to take whatever time is necessary to find someone who is a good fit.”

The HAA has also solicited suggestions and nominations from alumni and named an advisory committee made up of current and former HAA leaders. Some alumni groups also received invitations to live focus groups.

E. Andrew Grinstead ’97, president of the Harvard Christian Alumni Society, said it will be “difficult” to find a candidate who will be comfortable navigating an alumni network as “diverse and geographically broad” as Harvard’s.

“You need someone who’s got the ability to listen,” Grinstead said. “You’ve got to have someone who is genuine in their desire to hear from all parts of the community.”

Though Lovejoy himself is not a graduate of Harvard, his father, George M. Lovejoy Jr. ’51, was an active alumnus until his death in 2020. Philip Lovejoy wrote in the email announcing his departure that he plans to spend more time working for the Blue Hills Foundation, a working land trust in New Hampshire that his father established in 1982.

Laura A. Parkin ’86, co-president of Harvard Alumni for Climate and the Environment, said that though a Harvard degree should not be a prerequisite for the job, the pick should have “some familiarity with how universities work.”

“These sorts of institutions seem to be unique beasts,” Parkin said.

As in the ongoing hunt for Harvard’s 30th president, diversity is important to some alumni.

“One of the things that we would love to see is for it to be a person of color or a person from a marginalized identity,” said Jacob A. Barrera, co-president of the Harvard Latino Alumni Alliance.

Barrera said he would like to see a Latinx person “because there’s been so much negativity around Latino professors and faculty at Harvard” in recent years, citing Lorgia García Peña’s 2019 tenure denial, which sparked outcry and calls for tenure reform.

“For us, it is really hard to engage alumni when they see Harvard treat our other alumni or other Latino faculty and staff in such a way. For us, diversity, for sure, is at the top of our list,” Barrera said.

University spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the Isaacson, Miller website, 46 percent of all of its executive placements have been women and 27 percent have been people of color.

Parkin said she hopes the next HAA leader will tackle urgent challenges such as climate change.

“It’s a tough line to walk because Harvard is an institution of tradition, and we love traditions,” she said. “But we also want to make sure that Harvard remains on the leading edge of innovation.”

Correction: September 15, 2022

A previous version of this article misstated the size of the Harvard Alumni Association's executive director search advisory committee.

—Staff writer Cara J. Chang can be reached at cara.chang@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @CaraChang20.

—Staff writer Isabella B. Cho can be reached at isabella.cho@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @izbcho.

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