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A group of nearly 500 alumni is mounting a campaign against an outsider ticket for Harvard’s Board of Overseers, denouncing its proposals to eliminate tuition and scrutinize affirmative action as antithetical to diversity.
The group, called “Coalition for a Diverse Harvard,” launched a website last Wednesday inviting students and alumni to voice their opposition to the “Free Harvard, Fair Harvard” ticket running for the University’s second highest governing body. The ticket, organized by Ron K. Unz ’83 and headlined by five-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader, has drawn national media attention and criticism from Harvard’s top administrators for its two-pronged platform.
Jeannie Park ’83, a founder of the Coalition, said she learned of the “Free Harvard, Fair Harvard” campaign while its candidates were soliciting Asian American alumni groups for support in order to qualify for the Overseers ballot. Upon learning that most of the candidates had publicly argued against affirmative action, Park said she and her friends decided they “needed to do something to call attention to the larger agenda of the candidates, and, frankly, to stop them.”
“We were particularly disturbed by the idea that the slate was counting on Asian American alumni to give them the votes they needed,” Park said. "There is a long history of using Asian Americans to drive a wedge into affirmative action. We reject being part of any such strategy at Harvard.”
The outsider ticket, which also counts physicist Stephen D. Hsu, writer Stuart S. Taylor, Jr., and attorney Lee C. Cheng ’93 among its members, is calling for Harvard to release more detailed data about its undergraduate admissions processes, suspecting that the College’s use of affirmative action could be used to discriminate against Asian American applicants.
“The fact that these particular individuals are happy with the current system and who gets admitted does not mitigate the fact that the admissions process is potentially very unfair,” Unz said, referring to the Coalition. “Harvard proudly proclaims that it takes race into consideration and believes in diversity but it denies that there's any sort of an Asian quota. Harvard should be honest in what it’s doing.”
Kevin B. Jennings ’85, president of the First Generation Harvard Alumni Board and a member of the Coalition, called the “Free Harvard” tenet of the candidates’ platform a “red herring,” contending that making Harvard free would would unnecessarily subsidize tuition for wealthier students.
“It's very easy to come up with phrases that are catchy and appealing, like ‘Free Harvard, Fair Harvard,’” he said. “This strikes me more as a PR stunt than a genuine effort to understand how we can make Harvard a fairer place for people of all backgrounds.”
Unz countered Jennings’s criticism, pointing to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders who is “advocating free tuition for everybody in America, including the grandchildren of Donald Trump.”
“Nobody's accusing him of being a tremendous supporter of the rich,” Unz said.
According to Park, the Coalition sent a questionnaire focused on issues of diversity to all 13 Overseers candidates—counting both the outsider quintet and the eight nominated by the Harvard Alumni Association—and plans to endorse five based on their responses and biographies by the end of March.
—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.
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