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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

White, Male and Rich

By Francis J. Connolly

In the past decade or so, Harvard fundraisers have had a beef with the Board of Overseers.

As the composition of the board has diversified--including women and minority-group members as well as a complement of the white male businessmen who traditionally manned the board--the fundraisers complain they've had a harder time raising money.

Because the new generations of Overseers have ties to government, education and the arts as well as to business, the fundraisers complain, they don't pay enough attention to the basic facts of life and don't have contacts in monied circles. And the fundraisers' job is harder as a result.

The trend may not last for long, however. If the Associated Harvard Alumni (AHA) gets its way, the people with bankbooks on their minds will be all smiles in the near future.

Several alumni sources confirmed late last month that the AHA's nominating committee will present a slate of overseer candidates that is top-heavy with figures from the financial community.

The sources indicated that at least eight of the ten candidates--five of whom will be elected to six-year terms later in the year--will have ties to the world of high finance.

Although Dr. Chase N. Peterson '52, vice president for alumni affairs and development, and Andrew Heiskell '37, president of the Board of Overseers, denied that the upcoming nominations amount to an attempt to "rig" the election, one member of the current board said the AHA's reported plans are "totally incompatible with the spirit of a free election."

The current board has seven female members, as well as three blacks. Only six of the 30 current Overseers can be described as financial figures.

Fundraisers argue that Harvard will have to generate increased giving from alumni as a hedge against future inflation.

A heavy delegation of "money people" on the board would help future fundraising efforts, they said.

One Overseer said, however, that a plan to stack the board with financiers and industrialists would create an imbalance that would make the board more likely to downplay its non-fundraising functions.

The Overseers head visiting committees that periodically evaluate different educational aspects of the University.

"In attempting to achieve what some perceive as an imbalance, we will lose track of other benefits" that stem from a variety of interests on the board, the dissident Overseer said.

The pressure for increased representation from the financial community comes at a time when the University's endowment has risen to an all-time high of $1.46 billion, and the Faculty had balanced its budget for the first time in seven years.

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