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Editorials

Keep the Corporation, Lose the Corporatism

By Xinyi (Christine) Zhang
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

Four financiers, four academics, a litigation partner, a nonprofit leader, a businessman, and a billionaire heiress.

Sound like the board of a big bank or a publicly traded company? Think again. These are the fellows of the shadowy Harvard Corporation — the body that governs Harvard, hires its president, sets its budgets, and shapes the priorities of the nation’s foremost university.

Yesterday, we learned that two others will be joining this exclusive club in the coming year — pharmaceutical executive Kenneth C. Frazier and private equity bigshot Joseph Y. Bae ’94.

Few doubt their private-sector credentials. How they will contribute to the diversity of a university governing board already saturated with top corporate talent, however, is far from obvious.

The appointments of Frazier and Bae are two more data points in a disconcerting trend of appointments from large corporate multinationals to Harvard’s highest governing board. While a background in business can provide valuable leadership experience, in many ways, the skills and methods rewarded by Corporate America stand at odds with what we would hope to see in the governance of a place of learning.

Rather than continuing to select financiers to serve at Harvard’s helm, the Corporation would be wise to tap into more talent from the academy and other institutions outside the corporate world.

As long as current members of the Corporation select successors, disrupting the path from Wall Street to Mass. Ave will be no easy feat. The Corporation reportedly chooses new members with a commitment towards maintaining a similar level of representation from fellows across business, academia, and law. When a financier leaves, it is quite reasonable to expect a financier will replace them.

That said, we can hardly in good conscience endorse sweeping structural changes to Harvard’s corporate governance while chaos still reigns.

Major changes to such an important institution must be judiciously considered — not knee-jerk reactions to still-ongoing events. As the Corporation navigates chaos, it must not overreact to the caprices of public opinion, which have in recent weeks included calls for Corporation Senior Fellow Penny S. Pritzker ’81 to resign from her post — a totally facile proposal that fails to address the real issues plaguing Harvard and higher education.

This kind of two-bit punditry cannot guide how Harvard responds to its greatest crisis in decades.

Corporation fellows not only manage thousands of employees and billions of dollars, but also serve as stewards of Harvard and its mission. They keep a steady hand on the tiller, able to weather the storms of politics and public opinion, in part by virtue of their insularity.

That insularity does not entail that the Corporation must remain so opaque. We continue to believe the Corporation needs to increase the transparency of its approach to governance.

A case in point: Harvard’s official website lists only two public statements on former University President Claudine Gay: The first “unanimously” supports her; the second laments her resignation.

The total lack of public communication in the intervening period epitomizes the Corporation’s woefully inadequate approach to explaining its decision-making to the Harvard community and the wider world.

Frazier and Bae represent safe, unsurprising picks for a centuries-old governing board undergoing a crisis in its confidence. Once more, the names change, but the backgrounds don’t — the Corporation, it seems, is happy to settle for more of the same.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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