December 11, 2006

Provost Named Harvard Presidential Candidate

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Cornell provost Carolyn “Biddy” Martin is among the roughly 30 candidates Harvard is considering for its next president, according to Harvard’s student newspaper.

During winter break, The Crimson published the names of 11 candidates from the university search committee’s official list, which includes three Harvard leaders and heads of peer institutions such as Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger, The University of Cambridge head Alison F. Richard, Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman and Tufts University President Lawrence S. Bacow.

Harvard alumni and academics also mentioned Martin as well as the presidents of Amherst College, the University of California, the University of Michigan, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and other institutions, although The Crimson could not confirm these names.

The search committee drew up the list without assessing candidate interest, so the list likely will be shortened.

While it is unclear how strong Martin is as a contender for Harvard’s post, many executive headhunters have contacted her in the past about other positions.

“I’ve been approached about those opportunities, and if something very compelling were to come along, I’d be interested in the opportunity,” she told The Sun.

She said that she has no immediate plans but is interested in becoming a university president in the future.

However, sources close to The Sun said that Martin is looking to take on a larger role elsewhere.

In her six years as Cornell’s provost, she has been through two presidential vacancies but was passed over both times for outsiders – Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77, former dean of the University of Michigan Law school, in 2003 and David J. Skorton, former president of the University of Iowa.

R. William Funk, a former executive at search firm Korn/Ferry International who led Cornell’s last presidential search, said he has approached Martin about prospective presidencies in the past but did not encounter interest.

“If I were guessing, I would think Biddy is being very discriminating at what she’s looking at, if she’s looking at anything,” he said.

The executive recruiter, who has conducted over 200 president and chancellor searches, described Martin as “a candidate for quite honestly any presidency in the country.”

Martin has proven her abilities at running a large, complex research university and in maintaining continuity through two presidential transitions, Funk said.

He said that Martin “would not want to spend more than four more years in that role [as Cornell’s provost]” if she were interested in becoming a university president.

The average tenure for university provosts is about five to six years.

Currently, there are at least seven presidential vacancies at notable universities – Harvard, the University of California at Los Angeles, Case Western Reserve University, Purdue University, Indiana University, Ohio State University and the University of Iowa.