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Fiona Hill Wants to Tackle Legacy Admissions on Harvard Board of Overseers

National security expert Fiona Hill pledged to take on “intrinsically unfair” legacy admissions if elected to the Board of Overseers.
National security expert Fiona Hill pledged to take on “intrinsically unfair” legacy admissions if elected to the Board of Overseers. By Courtesy of Fiona Hill
By Miles J. Herszenhorn, Crimson Staff Writer

Fiona Hill is not a fan of legacy admissions.

A first-generation college student who described her scholarship to attend graduate school at Harvard as “transformational,” Hill is making legacy admissions a cornerstone issue of her campaign for the Board of Overseers.

“I think most people are coming to that conclusion that it’s just untenable over the longer term,” Hill said. “It’s intrinsically unfair.”

Hill, who was born in Durham, England to a family that “always struggled with poverty,” received her undergraduate degree from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She noted that legacy admissions is a distinctly American phenomenon.

“Universities around the world don’t do that,” Hill said. “Nobody would get any special positioning in Durham or in St. Andrews because of family ties.”

“Harvard is already addressing it to make sure that people who were already donors at the university cannot increase their donation if they’ve got a child who’s about to apply,” Hill added. “But that’s probably not sufficient.”

Hill graduated from Harvard in 1998 with a Ph.D. in history and a specialization in Russian and European affairs. At Harvard, she served as a resident tutor for Cabot House, where she met her future husband. Hill worked at the Brookings Institution before becoming a national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia, advising former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Hill went on to serve in former President Donald Trump’s National Security Council, where she was the senior director for Europe and Russia. Hill left the White House in July 2019, later providing key testimony against Trump that led to his first impeachment by the House of Representatives.

Despite her extensive credentials, Hill says it is her personal experience she hopes will prove to be a valuable asset on the Board of Overseers.

“I think I’ve got a lot to bring to the table,” Hill said. “Coming from a forgotten, former industrial, semi-rural area — there’s a lot of overlap with people from across the United States who also come to Harvard.”

Hill, who was endorsed by the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard, also said she supports the creation of an ethnic studies department.

“It’s kind of bizarre, in fact, that the University isn’t supporting that,” she said.

“It was a debate when I was at Harvard and I assumed that we were already moving along in this past decade since I’ve left,” Hill added. “I was really quite shocked to find that that still hasn’t been resolved.”

Hill also said she would use a seat on the Board of Overseers to advocate for making financial aid, student housing, and mental health support key priorities during Harvard’s next capital campaign.

“Ultimately, university is there for the students,” she said.

“I, myself, was really very grateful that a lot of that support was there when I was in graduate school,” Hill added. “But it wasn’t there for everyone.”

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

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