Professor Challenges Harvard's Governance Structure in the Huff Post

Former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 has struck again with another op-ed panning the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body—this time in the Huffington Post.

On Tuesday, an op-ed penned by Lewis went live on the Huffington Post’s Web site with the provocative title, “Larry Summers, Robert Rubin: Will The Harvard Shadow Elite Bankrupt The University And The Country?” It is still listed as one of the most popular blog posts on the Huff Post, with over 270 comments so far.

The blog post echoes another op-ed Lewis and Computer Science Professor Fred Abernathy co-wrote for the Boston Globe in December, calling for some of Harvard’s seven Fellows (who have lifelong terms) to resign and demanding reform of Harvard’s governance structure.

Lewis largely blames the seven-person board and former President Larry Summers for Harvard’s current financial crisis—noting that the Corporation lost $3 billion by “gambling” with operating cash and making bad bets on interest rates, in addition to another $11 billion lost from the endowment. He writes about the Corporation’s notorious secretiveness (“Their meetings and agendas are unannounced, their decisions unreported”) and seeming invulnerability (“[They] serve for life if they wish and cannot be unseated by anyone except themselves).”

After outlining the Harvard in Russia scandal and criticizing Harvard Corporation member Robert Rubin, Lewis ends his piece ominously:

"The modern power elites thrive by forgetting any regrettable past. This amnesia is easy at Harvard, where the legal fiduciaries operate in secret and need not answer for their acts. They are the antipodes of the selfless institutional servants who built Harvard and other great American enterprises, and they bear close watching."

While online support has congealed around Lewis’ crusade for governance reform—an anonymous Harvard professor suggests that Lewis should be appointed to the Corporation, and Harvard blogger Richard Bradley writes that “some other folks need to start stepping up to the plate”—don’t expect Lewis to lead a rally outside Mass. Hall anytime soon.

“I’m not doing any petition drives or anything like that,” Lewis told FlyBy. “I have to go and get back to my spring-term teaching and things I’ve committed to do.”

He added that he considers himself “relatively moderate” and suggested that the Corporation can become more transparent and accountable “just by voluntarily adopting some practices and telling people what they’re doing.”

Lewis did not approach the Huffington Post himself. George Mason University Professor Janine Wedel got in touch with Lewis, asking him to write a blog post that would be part of the Huff Post’s series on the “shadow elite”—in honor of Wedel’s book Shadow Elite.  Lewis agreed, noting to FlyBy that “she’s written a lot about the Harvard in Russia scandal that I mentioned in my piece.”

“The reason why I agreed to do it was really that I’ve been disappointed that the mythologizing about the end of the Summers presidency keeps being presented as he was run out of town because of…the women in science controversy,” he explained.

Instead, Lewis said, the Harvard in Russia scandal was much more present in professors’ minds when they cast their vote of no confidence in Summers.

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