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Harvard alumni backed by billionaires fail to make cut for board ballot

2024.02.02 20:58

© Reuters.

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

(Reuters) -Billionaire investor Bill Ackman, who led a marketing campaign criticizing Harvard University because it has been rocked by turmoil over practices associated to antisemitism, plagiarism and monetary administration, on Friday failed in a bid to get 4 candidates on the ballot for a governing board of the Ivy League college.

One different candidate backed by Facebook (NASDAQ:) founder Mark Zuckerberg additionally failed to win a spot on the ballot for Harvard’s board of overseers.

The two males, who acted independently, threw assist behind the candidates after Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned final month amid criticism of her dealing with of antisemitism on campus within the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault on Israel, and claims of plagiarism in her earlier educational profession.

Gay and Harvard have denied the allegations. Gay, who was Harvard’s first Black president, stated in a press release on the time that stepping down was in the perfect curiosity of the Ivy League college given the controversy.

The board of overseers is the college’s second-highest governing physique, with the facility to approve or reject the hiring of Harvard’s president. Each yr, 5 seats on the 30-member board are up for election, and solely Harvard alumni are eligible to vote.

Some of the candidates stated that Harvard knowledgeable them late on Friday that they didn’t meet the required threshold to get on the ballot. Zoe Bedell, one in all 4 candidates backed by Ackman, stated she, Alec Williams, Logan Leslie and Julia Pollak obtained between 2,300 and a pair of,700 votes every. Sam Lessin, the candidate backed by Zuckerberg, stated Harvard advised him he obtained 2,901 votes. Securing a spot on the ballot required 3,238 votes.

The vote for the board happens later this yr.

The college didn’t instantly reply to a request for touch upon the ballot outcomes.

Ackman additionally didn’t reply to a request for remark.

Ackman, who attended Harvard as an undergraduate and for enterprise college and has donated about $50 million to the college, has been among the many most vocal critics of Gay and her administration on campus. He advised Reuters earlier this yr that Harvard wants change and the slate he backed would convey recent blood to the board.

The Harvard Alumni Association interviews and places ahead candidates to a vote, and those that need to get on the ballot with out the affiliation’s blessing — because the candidates supported by Zuckerberg and Ackman tried — face lengthy odds.

In 2016, Harvard elevated the variety of signatures wanted to get on the ballot when not endorsed by the affiliation from 200 to 1% of those that have been entitled to vote within the earlier election.

Harvard has argued that preserving nominations vast open lets particular pursuits hijack the method, akin to political campaigns.


Lawrence Summers, a former Harvard president and former U.S. Treasury secretary, earlier this week spoke in favor of dissident candidates. “Everyone who can, should support challenges to Harvard’s traditional leadership from Sam Lessin, Harvey Silverglate, Alec Williams and others,” he wrote on social media platform X.

Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard to launch Facebook in 2004 and has dedicated to give $500 million to examine synthetic intelligence, threw his weight behind Lessin, an investor and former colleague on the social media big.

Ackman supported a bunch of 4 candidates referred to as Renew Harvard, which referred to as for upholding free speech, defending college students from bullying and harassment, and addressing monetary mismanagement on the college.

The group pointed to the college’s $50.7 billion endowment delivering a return of two.9% in fiscal 2023, deeply underperforming the broader market’s almost 20% acquire. Ackman shared this criticism.

The alumni within the Renew Harvard slate have been Bedell, an assistant U.S. legal professional; entrepreneur Leslie, who buys and runs small companies at Northern Rock; former Navy officer and investor Williams; and Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter.

“It is clear our message really resonated with the Harvard community given that we were able to get so many votes in just three weeks, so we know these issues are important and will not be abandoning them,” Bedell advised Reuters.

The Renew Harvard group plans to strive once more subsequent yr to turn out to be write-in candidates on the ballot, Bedell stated.

A variety of different candidates together with historian Todd Fine and legal professional Silverglate additionally mounted campaigns.

The board of overseers isn’t as highly effective because the smaller Harvard Corporation, which has direct oversight over the college’s operations, but it nonetheless workout routines affect. The main device of the overseers is the so-called visitation course of, which lets them ask questions of Harvard’s college and departments and perform assessments.

The final profitable challenges got here in 2020 and 2021, when Harvard Forward, a coalition of graduates that urged the college’s endowment to divest from fossil fuels, bought 4 candidates elected on the board of overseers.

In 1989, dissident alumni backed a petition to elect Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the board in a push to get Harvard to divest its funding holdings in corporations that did enterprise in South Africa through the time of racial apartheid.

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