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Former Facebook Exec Makes ‘Last Minute Bid’ for Harvard Board of Overseers Amid University Turmoil

Samuel W. Lessin '05 is running for the Harvard Board of Overseers to provide a check on the University's top governing board, the Harvard Corporation.
Samuel W. Lessin '05 is running for the Harvard Board of Overseers to provide a check on the University's top governing board, the Harvard Corporation. By Courtesy of Samuel W. Lessin
By Sally E. Edwards and Jack R. Trapanick, Crimson Staff Writers

Samuel W. Lessin ’05, a write-in candidate for Harvard’s Board of Overseers, said he can bring institutional change to a University that has “never been more embattled.”

Lessin — a venture capitalist and former Facebook executive — is staging an outsider campaign for election to the Board of Overseers, Harvard’s second-highest governing body.

As the University continues to face the fallout of former Harvard President Claudine Gay’s tempestuous six months in office, Lessin said he believes his campaign — which he called a “last minute bid” on his personal website — is “now more important than ever.”

Gay’s resignation from Harvard’s presidency on Tuesday means the University will soon begin a new presidential search process. Certain members of the Board of Overseers — a body composed of 30 elected Harvard alumni — are expected to serve on the presidential search committee, and the Board as a whole will approve the next president.

The Harvard Alumni Association has not yet announced its list of officially endorsed candidates for this year’s Overseers election, but Lessin is seeking more than 3,000 alumni signatures before the end of the month to appear on the ballot as a write-in candidate.

In interviews with The Crimson, Lessin described his campaign as an answer to alumni ready to “stop donating and walk away” over what they see as Harvard’s downward spiral, adding that he’s “not willing to give up on the University.”

Lessin criticized the University’s current leadership, including the secretive Harvard Corporation — the school’s highest governing body — which has been forced into the national spotlight in recent weeks over its handling of plagiarism allegations against Gay.

“One of the things that I would advocate for as Overseer is that the Corporation needs to be far more transparent about how they’re making decisions,” Lessin said.

“There’s a lot of explaining that needs to be done about the failures administratively, as well as the selection of Gay,” he added.

Lessin added that the Board of Overseers, which approved Gay’s selection to the presidency, is “as responsible for Gay as the Corporation.” The on-campus fallout from her response to the Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack against Israel, he said, should serve as a “wake-up call” for University leadership.

In particular, Lessin said, the Board of Overseers should do more to hold the Corporation accountable.

“The Overseers are a critical check and balance on making sure that we have the right leadership across the board — in the Corporation as well as the presidency,” Lessin said. “I worry — to be candid — that certainly they haven’t taken that role seriously enough in modern times.”

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment for this article.

Lessin described Gay’s tenure as a “symptom as much as a cause of fundamental problems” at Harvard: a lack of intellectual diversity and academic free speech on campus.

He said as a member of the Board, he would prioritize maintaining a “free speech culture” in academic settings while also addressing concerns of antisemitic and “vile” speech on campus.

In his campaign video, Lessin made references to protests that occurred on campus last semester, specifically citing instances of student activists “shouting in Widener” — an apparent reference to a silent “study-in” that occurred in Widener Library in December to protest civilian deaths in Gaza.

These demonstrations undermine Harvard’s mission of a “safe and positive learning environment,” Lessin said in an interview with The Crimson.

Despite his criticisms of the University and its leadership, Lessin emphasized that he has remained “a loyal Harvard alum.”

“Those of us that really care about the University understand that this is actually the time to lean in, not lean out,” Lessin said.

—Staff writer Sally E. Edwards can be reached at Follow her on X @sallyedwards04 or on Threads @sally_edwards06.

—Staff writer Jack R. Trapanick can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jackrtrapanick.

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