The list of American universities with former Yale administrators at the helm may grow later this year if ex-provost Alison Richard is tapped to lead Harvard University.
Richard, currently the administrative head of the University of Cambridge in England, is one of four top candidates identified by Harvard’s presidential search committee, according to reports in the Harvard Crimson. But Richard’s office released a statement indicating that she will serve out her term at Cambridge, which expires in 2010, and friends and colleagues at Yale suggested she will not trade Cambridge, England, for Cambridge, Mass. any time soon.
Richard, an anthropology professor, worked at Yale for 30 years, including nine as provost, until she was appointed vice chancellor of Cambridge in 2003. The chancellor of Cambridge, Richard’s alma mater, is Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip, who serves only as the university’s titular head.
The search for a new Harvard president began last spring when former president Lawrence Summers resigned after controversy over statements he made about women in science and two votes of no confidence by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Last week, the Crimson identified four top candidates currently under consideration by Harvard’s presidential search committee: Richard, John Etchemendy, the provost of Stanford University, Elena Kagan, dean of the Harvard Law School, and Drew Faust, the dean of the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study at Harvard.
Etchemendy has also said he does not intend to become Harvard’s next president.
Several Yale provosts have left New Haven to run other leading universities in recent years. Richard’s predecessor, Judith Rodin, served as president of the University of Pennsylvania from 1994 until 2004. Susan Hockfield, Richard’s successor, now heads the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition, Richard Brodhead ’68 became president of Duke University in 2004 after 11 years as dean of Yale College.
Yale President Richard Levin said he has recently spoken with Richard and is positive that she is committed to leading Cambridge.
“I think it would be great for American higher education if she were to take the job,” he said. “But I am quite confident that she has no interest at this time. My sense is that there are a number of very good candidates on the list. I would look forward to having one of them as a colleague.”
Richard was an eccentric and bold leader who made many friends during her time at Yale, former colleagues in the administration and the anthropology department said this month. More than three years after her departure, her influence is still felt around Yale, especially in the provost’s office, current provost Andrew Hamilton said.
Friends say she is having more fun at Cambridge than she ever would at Harvard. Anthropology professor Richard Burger said he thinks Richard is enjoying leading her alma mater and the near-celebrity status that goes with the job. After a minor collision with a cow while biking to work one day, Richard was surprised to see an article about the incident in The Times of London, Burger said.
Richard might just be too good for Harvard, Burger said.
“They don’t really deserve Alison,” he said.
Richard is the first woman to be appointed to a full term as vice chancellor in Cambridge’s 800-year history. In her inaugural speech at Cambridge, she cited diversity as a priority — echoing her work on diversifying Yale when she joined the top ranks of the University’s historically male-dominated administration.
“She is one of the most outstanding university leaders of our time and Cambridge is fortunate to have her, as Yale was,” said Linda Lorimer, University vice president and secretary. “I think it’s fabulous to have women administrators. Cambridge has taken some delight in the fact that they now have a woman as its top administrator.”
Other Ivy League presidents have also been discussed as possible candidates for the top job at Harvard — most notably Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania. But within the Ivies, presidential poaching is unprecedented. Any president that would willingly defect would probably not be very loyal to his or her new institution, Levin said.