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Five New Members Elected to Harvard Board of Overseers

By David H. Gellis, Crimson Staff Writer

A local prep school Head and a Chicago-based real estate mogul were among five new members of the Board of Overseers announced at the Harvard Alumni Association’s (HAA) meeting last month.

Richard I. Melvoin ’73, Head of the Belmont Hill School, Penny Pritzker ’81, CEO of the Pritzker Realty Group, and three others were elected to the University’s highest governing body in an election marked by lower turnout and a petition candidate—the first in several years.

Joining Melvoin and Pritzker as new members will be Frances D. Fergusson, president of Vassar College and Professor of Art; William F. Lee ’72, Managing Partner of the law firm Hale and Dorr, LLP and an expert in intellectual property issues; and Jaime Sepulveda, Dean of the School of Public Health of Mexico and world health adviser.

Fergusson led the field with 18,542 votes on the 32,556 ballots mailed in by alumni from all of Harvard’s schools. That turnout was down slightly compared with past years.

Just missing the cut was petition candidate Frederick H. Dulles ’64, who came in 7th with 13,398 votes.

A HAA nominating committee selects a number of candidates for the ballot equal to one-and-a-half times the number of spots open on the 30-member board. Others can petition to get on the ballot by collecting a requisite number of alumni signatures—this year 259.

In the past, candidates have petitioned and run on platforms advocating particular issues. For example, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was elected at the height of a campaign to force the University to divest from holdings in Apartheid South Africa.

At other universities, races for governing board seats have been turned into contentious affairs.

Earlier this year an internally favored candidate went up against a local minister in a race for a Yale Corporation seat in which both sides ended up spending tens of thousands of dollars to promote their candidacies.

Dulles’ campaign was neither so desperate nor dramatic. Dulles, a lawyer with a respected, small international law boutique, said that he did not run on a platform and had no bone to pick with the HAA establishment.

“It just seemed like my best chance to get on the board,” Dulles said.

In a statement accompanying the ballot, Dulles expressed his desire to give back to “the world’s greatest university” and stressed the international perspective he gained spending much of the past two decades overseas. How Harvard relates to the world abroad has gained even greater relevance in the wake of Sept. 11, he said.

Dulles said he hasn’t decided whether he would run again next year.

“Its a good bit of work, and I’m not sure I want to do it again to get not elected again,” he joked.

Those elected this year touched on a variety of themes in their ballot statements.

Pritzker, whose family is planning a $1.2 billion Fan Pier development in South Boston, noted that she might be helpful as the University looks to build a future campus across the Charles in Allston. Fergussen wrote broadly about her 16-year experience as a College president. Other candidates expressed support for University President Lawrence H. Summers’ goals of revamping undergraduate education, internationalization and sharpening the University’s focus on the issues of our time.

Dulles wasn’t alone in failing to make the cut. Red Sox Chair Tom Werner ‘71 may have outbid a group that included Overseer Joseph J. O’Donnell for control of the hometown team, but Werner won’t be joining O’Donnell as an Overseer. Richard N. Zare, a Stanford professor of Chemistry and Physics, and Rozlyn L. Anderson ‘77, a prominent black philanthropist, rounded out this year’s field.

The Board of Overseers is the University’s oldest governing body. While the Board was superceded by the smaller Harvard Corporation, which has exercised more direct control over the University since its incorporation in 1650, the Overseers serve an advisory role, visiting departments and programs across the University at each of their quarterly meetings.

The Overseers must, at least formally, approve the Corporation’s hiring and firing of Presidents.

—Staff writer David H. Gellis can be reached at

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