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Jeffrey Dunn ’77 Vows to Lead Harvard’s Fight to Protect Democracy if Elected

President and CEO of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Jeffrey D. Dunn ’77 said Harvard must work to protect democracy as an educational leader.
President and CEO of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Jeffrey D. Dunn ’77 said Harvard must work to protect democracy as an educational leader. By Courtesy of Sesame Workshop
By Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writer

Jeffrey D. Dunn ’77 said he would bring an “insider’s and outsider’s” perspective if elected to the Board of Overseers, the University’s second-highest governing body, and stressed the importance of working to protect democracy amid global upheaval.

A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School, Dunn said the University must work to produce the next generation of leaders to navigate the moral challenges posed by what he sees as growing threats to democracy and the rapid development of technology.

President and CEO of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Dunn formerly served as the executive chair, president, and CEO of Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit that produces Sesame Street. During his time with the nonprofit, Dunn earned 38 Emmy awards, a Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award, and the MacArthur Foundation’s inaugural $100 million change grant.

Previously, Dunn was also president and CEO of HiT Entertainment, president of Nickelodeon Film & Enterprises, and COO of the Nickelodeon Networks Group.

At the University, Dunn has been a member of the Harvard Student Agencies board, a Harvard Advanced Leadership fellow, and an executive in residence at the Graduate School of Education.

For Dunn, the most critical challenges facing the University are the rise of authoritarianism, the threat to democracy driven by income inequality, and rapid technological change.

“Globalization and computers have upended industries and the livelihoods of large numbers of people, and the result has been a dramatic rise in income inequality, which has fueled populism and authoritarianism,” he said. “Polls now show that democracy and capitalism are now both vulnerable.”

Dunn said he hopes Harvard will “lead the education sector” through this “profound change.”

“People often take their cues from Harvard. Leading universities drive what happens below them because they admit students and so the feeder system below them reacts to what they think those universities value,” he added. “Harvard has a very significant role to play in setting the educational agenda for the country.”

“Every school at Harvard is going to need to prepare its graduates for a much more demanding and complex future leadership role than today,” he added.

Dunn said if elected to the Board of Overseers, he is “strongly in favor of the most transparent leadership.”

“I’m all for transparency,” he said. “I believe in transparency.”

To Dunn, though, the responsibility for transparency extends beyond the University’s governing boards.

“The Board of Overseers is not a governing board; they don’t make decisions,” he said. “It’s really the leaders’ job, the Harvard administration’s job to be transparent. I would counsel them and advise them to do that.”

Dunn said he hopes the Board of Overseers will act as a “conscience” for University leadership.

“I don’t come to this with an agenda or politics,” he said. “I would hope the Overseers would put aside any personal agendas and listen thoughtfully to everybody and to the broader alumni community and help the leadership of Harvard arrive at the best decisions.”

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33

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