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In Letter to Bacow, Rev. Al Sharpton Calls on Harvard to Disclose Diversity Among Endowment Managers

The Harvard Management Company manages Harvard's endowment and related financial holdings.
The Harvard Management Company manages Harvard's endowment and related financial holdings. By Steve S. Li
By Ellen M. Burstein, Crimson Staff Writer

Civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton called on Harvard to disclose whether it employs African American asset managers in a letter to University President Lawrence S. Bacow last month.

In the letter, Sharpton asked that Harvard release a report detailing whether any senior African American professionals are involved in internally managing the school’s $40.9 billion endowment.

Sharpton also asked that Harvard disclose any African Americans in direct management positions or in senior leadership positions at any external management firms the University may work with.

Sharpton signed his letter to Bacow in his capacity as president of the National Action Network, Sharpton’s civil rights nonprofit.

Sharpton wrote that not employing diverse asset managers would be a failure of Harvard’s “fiduciary responsibility.”

“While the systematic exclusion of people of color and women from the management of endowment assets has been a question of social justice over time, today it is for me a question of fiduciary responsibility,” Sharpton wrote. “Study after study shows very high performing women and people of color, yet those same studies show under-utilization by asset allocators.”

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain confirmed the receipt of the letter but declined to comment before a response to Sharpton.

Harvard Management Company spokesperson Patrick S. McKiernan wrote in an emailed statement that HMC has taken a three-pronged approach towards increasing diversity among its asset managers.

“First and foremost, we seek diversity and inclusion amongst our team at HMC, including those who make decisions to allocate capital to external investment managers,” McKiernan wrote. “We are proud of the diversity of our team.”

McKiernan wrote that HMC has worked with outside groups to “ensure consideration of diverse managers.”

“When considering the diversity of an external manager, we do not limit our view merely to the leadership level, but also try to consider their entire team,” McKiernan wrote.

Finally, HMC is “increasingly focused” on the diversity of investments of external managers, according to McKiernan.

“Having an external manager, no matter however diverse, investing with non-diverse companies is not of particular interest,” McKiernan wrote.

In his letter, Sharpton cited the University of California’s recent report to university administrators and state legislators outlining the school system’s efforts to promote diverse hiring practices among its endowment managers.

“This report does not mitigate the harm and moral stain of past transgressions, but it does show that the University of California is receptive to the idea of integrating people of color into every part of their university to create the best possible institution,” Sharpton wrote.

On their website, the Harvard Management Company posted a statement noting that diversity is a priority when working with firms.

“Diversity and inclusion is an important issue in the workplace, not only for our external managers, but for the investments that they make,” the website reads. “A central tenet of HMC’s investment culture is the belief that a healthy organization is critical to investment success. To succeed, firms must attract and retain the best talent from the broadest pool possible.”

—Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at ellen.burstein@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.

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