Overseer Elections Call Up Dedicated Alumni to Help Govern Harvard

Some claim election is biased toward University-favored elites

It has an endowment of more than $11 billion, a faculty distinguished the world over, and real estate assets covering large parts of Cambridge and Boston. All in all, no one would dispute that Harvard is a powerful institution.

And the ultimate power over this vast collection of resources rests in the hands of a relatively small number of individuals--the members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers.

While it is the Corporation--comprised of the President, Treasurer and five fellows--who makes fiscal and policy decisions, the Board has great influence, watching over the workings of America's oldest university.

The Board breaks into smaller visiting committees which review departments in all of Harvard's various schools and museums, and produce reports containing policy recommendations which ultimately go before the President.

According to newly elected Board President Charlotte P. Armstrong '49, the overseers are charged with making sure the University "stays true to its charter."


The 30 elected members of the Board serve six-year terms, and every year, five must step down and be replaced.

Nomination Contemplation

With the influence the overseers possess, it is not surprising that the annual elections of five overseers are taken very seriously. Any Harvard degree-holder is eligible and can become a candidate with a nomination by another Harvard graduate.

This year, over 300 alumni were nominated for the five open slots and were then investigated by the Nominating Committee of the Alumni Association.

The committee whittled down the field to eight candidates, who are being voted on by the alumni at large. The results will be announced in early June.

A candidate can also bypass the nominating committee by collecting the signatures of 1 percent of the alumni association, a process known as running by petition. This year, there are two such candidates.

The nominating committee tries to balance the Board along these lines, says committee chair Christopher T. Bayley '60.

"We always want to make sure there are people there from academic backgrounds, from the various professions and from technical backgrounds," Bayley says.

This year, candidates come from careers ranging from the financial world to academia. One is a New York Times arts editor, another is a former Time Magazine Man of the Year.

Armstrong says the Committee's mission to ensure diversity on the Board is an enormous undertaking.

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