The search for a Harvard president could wrap up as early as next weekend. One of the final contenders is Nobel laureate and philanthropic official Thomas R. Cech , while Drew Gilpin Faust , dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, appears to be the leading inside candidate, according to people familiar with the search process.
But the search remains subject to change at any time, and other candidates could suddenly rise to the top, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the process is intended to be confidential.
Next weekend could be an ideal time for Harvard to announce its pick, because of the regularly scheduled meeting of the board of overseers, a group of roughly 30 alumni whose sign-off is needed on Harvard's choice. The search committee is made up of the six members of the primary governing board, the Corporation -- excluding interim President Derek Bok -- and three overseers.
However, the committee is also determined not to rush its decision, said one source. Some critics of former president Lawrence H. Summers have argued that Harvard did not investigate his management style thoroughly enough before choosing him in 2001.
The process, if necessary, could stretch into early March, depending on how background checks go, how long it takes for committee members to make up their minds, and whether the person offered the job accepts.
Faust and Cech declined to comment yesterday. Neither has confirmed or denied interest in the post.
Some members of the search committee would prefer to choose a scientist, one source said, in light of the need for Harvard to expand its scientific initiatives on the new Allston campus as well as in Cambridge.
The Globe previously reported that the short list included Cech, Faust, and two other insiders: provost Steven E. Hyman , a neuroscientist, and law school dean Elena Kagan .
The short list also includes another scientist, Harold E. Varmus , a Nobel laureate for cancer research and the president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, said one source. Varmus was also considered in Harvard's last search. His age, 67, is a concern because Harvard hopes to have a president who would serve for 10 years.
The committee also took a close look at Eric S. Lander, head of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, a biomedical research center, but he doesn't appear to be a finalist, another source said. Lander was a key figure in mapping the human genome.
Harvard's search committee has conducted informal interviews with dozens of people over the past year. As the last search wound down, many predicted that Harvard was about to choose Lee C. Bollinger , then president of the University of Michigan, but Summers rose to the top instead. Bollinger is now president of Columbia University.
Cech, 59, is president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the second largest philanthropy in the United States. The institute conducts key scientific and medical research into everything from cancer and Alzheimer's to the health benefits of red wine.
Cech won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1989 and still runs a laboratory at the University of Colorado at Boulder. It would be very unusual for the president of a large university to maintain an active lab, and some friends question whether Cech would be willing to give up his lab, even to fill one of the most visible position s in higher education.
Faust, also 59, is a prominent historian, focused on the Civil War era, who took the helm at Radcliffe just as the school, once a separate women's college within Harvard, was reborn as a smaller research institute. She has handled layoffs and smoothed over tensions with some Radcliffe alumnae upset about being absorbed into Harvard College. Both have been praised for their deft management skills, a particular concern for the committee, according to one source.