The Reluctant President: Gaylord P. Harnwell and American University Leadership after World War II


This article examines the University of Pennsylvania’s presidential search of 1952–53, which led to the election of the physicist Gaylord P. Harnwell, in light of other universities’ presidential searches and literature on such searches during that era. It reveals the existence of a competitiv e market for university leaders characterized by three common themes: how universities prioritized keeping their own rising stars; the growing power of the faculty in university governance, which translated to pressure to hire an academic as university president; and how professors who directed military-oriented research during World War II parlayed that experience into postwar administrative careers.