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As the Board of Overseers election reaches its close, leaders of Harvard Forward — a group advocating for climate change reform and young alumni representation on the University’s governance boards — defended their campaign at a town hall Saturday amid increasing concerns from alumni about their mission.
The Zoom town hall followed a letter penned by a group of alumni, which included 10 out of the 13 current members of the Harvard Alumni Association’s Executive Committee, criticizing Harvard Forward’s campaign strategy and policy positions.
At the town hall, Harvard Forward co-founders Danielle O. Strasburger ’18 and Nathán Goldberg Crenier ’18 addressed concerns the alumni raised in the letter about the Overseers’ ability to control the University’s finances and make decisions about divestment.
Crenier said that while the Board of Overseers does not have direct control over the Harvard Management Company, the Overseers do have significant influence over Harvard’s decision-making.
“We know that the Overseers are not the ones that manage the money,” he said. “But the links between the Overseers and the Corporation — dating all the way back to the establishment of the Corporation — are such that the Overseers actually have a lot of influence if they choose to use it.”
Strasburger also pushed back on criticism that their campaign is focused on a “special interest” or a “single platform.” She said the campaign’s slate of candidates have spoken out about important issues that fall outside of the “very narrow purview” of what some consider University business.
“Many of us...see Harvard as being a massive player on the world stage, and therefore, what’s in the best interest of Harvard and the best interest of the world often overlap,” she said.
Alumni also wrote in their letter that Harvard Forward’s “copious funding” and “full-time campaign staff, operating costs, and targeted ads” troubled them.
Strasburger said in the town hall that neither she nor Crenier are paid or compensated for their work.
“It has purely been a labor of much, much, much love,” Strasburger said.
The Harvard Forward website lists several “core team members,” including a field director, brand & technology manager and summer fellows.
In their initial written response to the alumni letter, Strasburger and Crenier wrote that Harvard Forward was a grassroots movement that runs on “hundreds of individual donations” from school affiliates.
While the alumni called Harvard Forward’s campaigning methods “atypical,” Strasburger said they did not break election rules by hosting office hours around the world and advertising their campaign on social media. She also said Crenier reviewed the rules of the election with the Office of the Governing Boards before their campaign launched.
“We were not given a guidebook,” she said. “The only things they’d step in on are about negative campaigning or lying so that was all we had to guide our campaign.”
“At no point have we been told that anything about the campaign that we’re doing is problematic,” she added.
Harvard Forward leaders publicized the town hall as an opportunity for University affiliates to hear from both Harvard Forward and alumni who signed the letter. Only representatives from Harvard Forward made an appearance, as several alumni declined to participate due to time zone concerns and scheduling conflicts.
All Harvard degree holders — expect those in University instruction and governance positions — are eligible to vote in the annual Overseers election. The election ends August 18.
—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.
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