Equal Privileges For Notorious Alums

Harvard policy permits convicted grads reunions, donate funds


They are white and male, but nonetheless they are covered by a University non-discrimination policy. [SEE CORRECTION BELOW]

Harvard graduates Theodore J. Kaczynski ’62, the Unabomber, Jeffrey K. Skilling, former CEO of Enron, and Eugene N. Plotkin ’00, a former Goldman Sachs employee indicted for insider trading, have at least one thing in common.

Along with several other notorious alums, all three are listed in the alumni directory, entitled to receive invitations to class reunions, and allowed to make donations to Harvard.

Harvard officials declined to comment on specific cases, but accccording to Andrew Tiedemann, Harvard’s Director of Communications for Alumni Affairs and Development, and John P. Reardon Jr. ’60, the Executive Director of the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA), Harvard does not discriminate among alums on the basis of criminal convictions or allegations of human rights violations.

All alumni receive equal privileges, regardless of alleged misdeeds.


Could you run into a convicted criminal at your next reunion? This scenario is hypothetical, but not impossible, given the list of Harvard’s infamous alums.

In its Spring 2007 issue, the ‘independent’ alumni magazine 02138 published a list of notorious alumni and dubbed it the “Hubris Hall of Fame.”

Culling names from that list and its archives, The Crimson has assembled a shortlist (see sidebar) of alums rarely mentioned in University press releases.

All living alums are automatically listed in Harvard’s directory, all are entitled to return for reunions, and all may donate money to the University.

Harvard has no choice but to grant all alums equal privileges, according to Reardon.

“I wouldn’t know how to have a different policy,” he says. “You’d want all your classmates basically to be treated alike, I would think.”

When asked whether Kaczynski, for example, would be invited back to reunions, Reardon chuckles.

“I think Ted doesn’t have an opportunity,” he says. Nonetheless, Reardon adds, “He’d have a chance to write a class report...All our alumni would be given materials.”

Alums should not be able to lose their place in the Harvard community, according to the HAA leader.

“I would see it really a lot like a family,” he says. “We own the good and the bad.”

Excluding alums from the directory or from reunions “would be like saying they’re not in the family any more.”

Tiedemann adds that Harvard does not restrict donations based on the record of the donor.

“When we’re taking a gift, we don’t make any restrictions or exceptions,” Tiedemann says, adding that Harvard does not make moral judgments about its alums. “If someone wants to make a gift to Harvard and it’s for one of our priorities, we’ll accept the gift.”

But are criminals solicited for donations?

“I honestly don’t know,” Tiedemann says. “If we have their contact information, I assume we would try to contact them.”

The reality of Harvard’s policy, however, is more complex.

In July 2004, Harvard returned a high profile $2.5 million gift from the President of the United Arab Emirates. President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan requested the return of the gift after Harvard had placed it on hold.

“In light of the Zayed Center’s having promoted activities in evident conflict with the purposes of the gift, Harvard indicated to representatives of the donor that the University was seriously considering returning the gift funds,” Harvard wrote in a press release at the time.


Other universities explicitly take into account a donor’s past when deciding whether to accept donations.

In October 2005, Kaczynski offered to donate two books to the library of Northwesten University, the target of Kaczynski’s first two bombs. A campus policeman and graduate student suffered minor injuries when they opened packages containing explosive materials in the late 1970s.

Northwestern rejected the offer, claiming its library already owned the books.

Nonetheless, Northwestern’s Vice-President of University Relations Alan Cubbage says the school takes the source of a potential donation into account when deciding whether to accept gifts.

It’s very much on a case-by-case basis,” Cubbage says.

In 1979, confronted by protests over gifts from Southern Africa, Derek Bok wrote an open letter describing and justifying Harvard’s gift policy.

“In and of itself,” Bok notes in his abstract, “the act of accepting a donation does not imply an endorsement of the views or actions of the benefactor.”


Jacqueline Bhabha, Executive Director of the University Committee on Human Rights Studies, says she supports Harvard’s policy of granting alumni equal reunion and directory privileges, but thinks Harvard should “protect the integrity of the institution” by exercising discretion when accepting gifts.

“I think accepting a gift associates you with the giftor,” Bhabha says. “It enables the giftor to say they made the gift to you—it makes an association that could color the independence of the work you do.”

Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy Dennis F. Thompson says he thinks the University’s policy is well-conceived.

“I think it would be difficult for the university, and probably inadvisable, to try to make official judgments about individual people,” he says.

Thompson adds that Harvard should not make official judgments about alumni when accepting gifts.

“I would not refuse to accept a gift of money to which no strings were tied, and we could use for any purpose, and didn’t come from any illegal activity,” he says.

In that case, Thompson says, “it doesn’t matter to me that the giver himself has done something wrong.”

Plummer Professor of Christian Morals Rev. Peter J. Gomes says he agrees that the policy makes sense.

“It’s probably best not to look too closely,” he says. “I think if Harvard ever did that, we’d be a much poorer institution.”

Some students agree that Harvard should not discriminate among alums.

“If I committed a felony, I wouldn’t want to be excluded,” Peter J. Martinez ’07 says.

George T. Olken ’07 takes a different position.

“I would hope that they don’t contact me about donations whether or not I violate human rights,” he says.

CORRECTION: The April 27 news article "Equal Privileges For Notorious Alums" incorrectly implied that Harvard's non-discrimination policy does not cover white males. In fact, the policy is not limited to cover a specific group of individuals; it more broadly protects against discrimination based on race, gender, and other factors.