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2020 Harvard Board of Overseers, HAA Director Elections Come to a Close

Loeb House is located at 17 Quincy Street and was the former home of Harvard Presidents. Today it houses Harvard’s Governing Boards and their administrative offices.
Loeb House is located at 17 Quincy Street and was the former home of Harvard Presidents. Today it houses Harvard’s Governing Boards and their administrative offices. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Michelle G. Kurilla, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard’s annual Board of Overseers and Harvard Alumni Association director elections concluded Tuesday evening after being pushed back two months due to COVID-19.

The 2020 Harvard elections kicked off July 1 after the University postponed its start due to the global coronavirus pandemic. It was originally scheduled to take place from April 1 to May 19.

The Board of Overseers — the University’s second-highest governing body — advises Harvard administrators and approves certain actions taken by the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body. Elected directors of the Harvard Alumni Association serve as representatives for alumni across Harvard’s schools.

In late October, Harvard Forward launched an unprecedented campaign to get its slate of five candidates onto the ballot. Harvard Forward is a campaign advocating for climate change reform and young alumni representation on the University’s governance boards.

To make it onto the ballot each of the five candidates was required to gain roughly 3,000 alumni signatures to petition to join the ballot. Harvard Forward promoted their slate of candidates and policy proposals through town halls held around the world, office hours, and social media.

The Harvard Alumni Association’s Nominating Committee did not nominate any of Harvard Forward’s proposed candidates, but all of the campaign’s five candidates received over 4,500 signatures and made it on the ballot in February.

Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit and forced the election to move online. By the end of the 10-month campaign, Harvard Forward — adept at online events and outreach — spent about $59,000 in pre-election and election expenditures.

In an emailed statement, Harvard Forward representatives wrote that they are “proud” to have run a “positive, grassroots campaign.”

“We're really grateful for the thousands of alumni who came together to take a stand for climate justice and inclusive governance,” they wrote. “We've heard from so many alumni who say they've never voted before, but this year they felt inspired to vote for Harvard Forward.”

Harvard Forward representatives wrote that no matter how the election turns out “alumni have made it clear that these are issues Harvard must address.”

This year’s election also focused on issues of racial justice as the Coalition for Diverse Harvard, an activist group that supports increased diversity at the University, endorsed candidates after a process of research, diversity questionnaire, and interviews with the Overseers candidates. The Coalition was formed in 2016 in response to a controversial alumni group’s ticket for the Board of Overseers.

Kristin R. Penner, who is a board member for the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard, wrote in an email to The Crimson that the Coalition’s candidates lead on racial justice issues and advocate for an Ethnic Studies program at the University.

“Whatever the results, Diverse Harvard, alumni of color organizations, and progressive alumni groups are not going anywhere,” Penner added.

All Harvard degree holders — except those in University instruction and governance positions and members of the Harvard Corporation — were eligible to vote in the elections by traditional paper ballot or online in the Board of Overseers election. All Harvard degree holders were eligible to vote for Harvard Alumni Association elected directors.

The election results will be announced in the coming days in the Harvard Gazette, a University-run publication.

—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at michelle.kurilla@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

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