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Harvard Board of Overseers

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Harvard Board of Overseers (more formally The Honorable and Reverend the Board of Overseers) is one of Harvard University's two governing boards. Although its function is more consultative and less hands-on than the President and Fellows of Harvard College, the Board of Overseers is sometimes referred to as the "senior" governing board because its formation predates the Fellows' 1650 incorporation.


Today, there are 30 overseers, all directly elected by alumni; at one point, the board was self-perpetuating. Originally the overseers included, ex officio, the public officials and Puritan clergy of Cambridge and the neighboring towns (hence the "honorable and reverend" of the title). Today, the president and the treasurer of Harvard are ex officio members of the board.

Each year, Harvard alumni elect five new overseers to serve six-year terms. Overseer candidates are nominated by the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA), and those not nominated by the HAA (petition candidates) must gather signatures from Harvard alumni to appear on the ballot.

Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. quipped famously of the election of John F. Kennedy, his son, to the board in 1957: "Now I know his religion won't keep him out of the White House. If an Irish Catholic can get elected as an Overseer at Harvard, he can get elected to anything."[1]


According to the Harvard website, the Board of Overseers complements the work of the President and Fellows of Harvard College:[2]

Drawing on the wide-ranging experience and expertise of its members, the Board exerts broad influence over the University’s strategic directions, provides counsel to the University leadership on priorities and plans, and has the power of consent to certain actions of the Corporation. The Board’s chief functions include superintendence of the visitation process, the principal mechanism for periodic external review of the quality and direction of the University’s schools, departments, and selected other programs and activities. The Board carries out this responsibility largely through the operation of more than fifty visiting committees, whose work is overseen by and reported to the Board.

Current Overseers

As of September 2020, the Overseers were:[3]

  • Geraldine Acuña-Sunshine (2018–2024), President, Sunshine Care Foundation for Neurological Care and Research, and Senior Counsel, Bracebridge Capital
  • Raphael W. Bostic (2020-2026), President and CEO, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
  • P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale (2016–2022), Frances Willard Professor of Human Development and Social Policy and Vice Provost for Academics, Northwestern University
  • R. Martin Chavez (2019–2025), Senior Director, Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.
  • Alice Hm Chen (2009–2015), Deputy Secretary for Policy and Planning and Director of Clinical Affairs, California Health and Human Services Agency, and Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco
  • Paul L. Choi (2017–2023), Partner, Sidley Austin LLP
  • Philip Hart Cullom (2018–2024), Vice Admiral (retired), U.S. Navy
  • Fernande R.V. Duffly (2015–2021), Former Associate Justice, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
  • Janet Echelman (2019–2023), Artist, and President of Studio Echelman
  • Helena Foulkes (2016–2022), Chief Executive Officer, Hudson’s Bay Company
  • Brian Greene (2015–2021), Professor of Physics, Professor of Mathematics, and Director, Center for Theoretical Physics, Columbia University
  • Carla Harris (2017–2023), Vice Chair of Wealth Management, Senior Client Advisor and Managing Director, Morgan Stanley
  • Meredith (Max) Hodges (2018–2024), Executive Director, Boston Ballet
  • Marilyn Holifield (2018–2024), Partner, Holland & Knight LLP
  • Darienne Driver (2017–2023), President and CEO, United Way for Southeastern Michigan
  • Vivian Hunt (2019–2025), Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company, United Kingdom & Ireland
  • Tyler Jacks (2019–2025), Koch Professor of Biology and Director, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Ketanji Brown Jackson (2016–2022), Judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
  • Beth Y. Karlan (2015–2021), Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California at Los Angeles
  • John King Jr. (2019–2025), President and CEO, The Education Trust
  • Margaret (Midge) Purce (2020-2026), Soccer player, United States Women's National Team and Sky Blue FC
  • Alejandro Ramírez Magaña (2016–2022), CEO, Cinépolis
  • Yvette Roubideaux (2018–2024), Director, Policy Research Center, National Congress of American Indians
  • Reshma Saujani (2019–2025), Founder and CEO, Girls Who Code
  • Thea Sebastian (2020-2026), Policy Counsel, Civil Rights Corps
  • Tracy K. Smith (2020-2026), Roger S. Berlind '52 Professor in the Humanities, Princeton University; 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States
  • Leslie P. Tolbert (2017–2023), Regents’ Professor Emerita, Department of Neuroscience, University of Arizona
  • Jayson Toweh (2020-2026), Program Analyst, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Kent Walker (2016–2022), Senior Vice President, Global Affairs, and Chief Legal Officer, Google LLC
  • John Silvanus Wilson (2015–2021), Former President, Morehouse College
  • Lawrence Bacow, President, Harvard University
  • Paul Finnegan, Treasurer, Harvard University

Petition candidates

In the late 1980s, a group calling for a withdrawal of Harvard's investments in apartheid South Africa helped nominate petition candidates for overseer elections. Known as the Harvard-Radcliffe Alumni Against Apartheid (HRAAA), this group supported the first petition candidate to win an overseer's seat.[4] The HRAAA backed South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his successful bid to join the board in 1989,[5][6] and future U.S. president Barack Obama's unsuccessful petition bid in 1991.[7]

In 2020, Harvard Forward, a group calling for increased attention to climate change and representation of younger alumni on the Board, put forward a slate of five petition candidates.[8] Three of the five were elected to the board: environmental scientist Jayson Toweh, civil rights attorney Thea Sebastian, and professional soccer player Margaret Purce.[9]


  1. ^ Kenneth P. O'Donnell and David F. Powers with Joe McCarthy, "Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye": Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, p. 147, Little Brown and Company, New York, N.Y., 1972, Standard Book Number: 671-78640-7
  2. ^ "Harvard's president and Leadership,", accessed 23 June 2012
  3. ^ "Board of Overseers". Harvard University. n.d. Retrieved September 12, 2020.
  4. ^ Moses, Jonathan M. (October 6, 1986). "Seidman Takes Overseer Seat". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved August 21, 2020.
  5. ^ "Divestment Opposition Persists Despite Tutu's Overseer Election". The Harvard Crimson. September 15, 1989. Retrieved August 21, 2020.
  6. ^ Kurilla, Michelle G.; Zhang, Ruoqi (February 7, 2020). "As New Candidates Move Forward, A Look Back at Previous Board of Overseers Campaigns". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved August 21, 2020.
  7. ^ "Barack Obama of Harvard Law School—and Beyond". Harvard Magazine. November 5, 2008. Retrieved August 21, 2020.
  8. ^ Kurilla, Michelle G.; Zhang, Ruoqi (February 19, 2020). "All Five of Harvard Forward Candidates Listed on Board of Overseers Ballot". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved August 21, 2020.
  9. ^ Rosenberg, John S. (August 21, 2020). "Insurgent Election". Harvard Magazine. Retrieved August 21, 2020.

External links

This page was last edited on 12 September 2020, at 19:37
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