Seidman Takes Overseer Seat
Divestment Candidate is First to Win in Petition Campaign
The only successful candidate to run by petition for Harvard's Board of Overseers took her seat among the 30 members of the University's governing body for the first time this weekend.
Gay W. Seidman '78, who ran for the board on a pro-divestment platform, said that although the University administration opposed her campaign, fellow overseers expressed their support for her at the year's first meetings.
"I was pleasantly surprised by how graciously everyone greeted me," Seidman said last night. But the Berkeley graduate student in sociology added, "I arrived late because I was terrified."
Along with two other alumni, Seidman became a candidate for the board last spring by submitting petitions to the University. Normally candidates for the board are nominated by a University committee.
Harvard's more than 200,000 alumni elect the Overseers to their six-year term through mailed ballots. Set up by the University charter, the board technically oversees the Harvard Corporation, but has concentrated on reviewing University academic policy in recent years.
Although Seidman and her fellow candidates were not the first graduates in Harvard history to run for the board by petition, their campaign met with stiff opposition from University officials, including President Derek C. Bok.
A letter which was included in the official election packet sent to alumni said that voting for specific issue candidates would alter the nature of the board. The letter was signed by former Overseer president Joan T. Bok '51, no relation to Derek.
But a month after the election packets had been sent out it was revealed that the letter had actually been written by Derek Bok, who asked the overseer president to sign it.
The letter and the controversy surrounding itsauthor led several alumni to file a complaint withthe Massachusetts Attorney General, charging thatthe election had been conducted fraudently. Theattorney general's office is still looking intothe charges.
Seidman said that running for overseers is "aperfectly reasonable way to affect change atHarvard."
A group of graduates called Alumni AgainstApartheid have said that they will run sixcandidates by petition for all the overseers spotsopening up this year. These candidates will run ona platform for divestment.
Despite Harvard's recent announcement that itwill divest of one-third of its holdings in SouthAfrica, Seidman said the divestment issue is stillvery much alive.
"This divestment only covers companies thatdirectly supply the South African police andmilitary," Seidman said of the announcement ofdivestment. The University said it was selling the$150 million in stocks and bonds because thecompanies sold "strategic goods" to the SouthAfrican government.
"But there is no way Harvard can discover howsomething which is sold to South African agenciesis used," Seidman said, adding that the Pretoriagovernment has a policy to amass strategic goodsthrough agencies not involved in apartheidactivities.
Seidman said that Harvard cannot remain linkedto companies doing business in South Africabecause the country "is one which is under an ironfist.