Source – CTV News
Renowned US hedge fund billionaire, Bill Ackman, is making waves at Harvard once again, this time deploying his shareholder activist strategies to back four external candidates for the university’s governing body. Following the successful campaign for the resignation of Harvard’s President Claudine Gay, Ackman is supporting the Renew Harvard group in their bid for seats on the 30-person board of overseers.
The Renew Harvard group has outlined a multifaceted agenda, emphasizing the need to “restore leadership excellence at Harvard,” uphold principles of free speech and academic standards, protect students, and address concerns related to operational and endowment mismanagement. In an interview with Reuters, Ackman expressed his belief that Harvard requires change, asserting that the introduction of fresh perspectives to the board of overseers could catalyze this much-needed transformation.
Bill Ackman has faced criticism from Harvard academics
This move by Bill Ackman comes amid heightened scrutiny of elite universities, with a particular focus on issues such as the Israel-Hamas conflict, debates over freedom of speech, and broader discussions about governance and diversity. However, the involvement of external figures like Ackman has faced criticism from hundreds of Harvard academics who view it as political interference and a potential threat to the university’s autonomy and freedom of speech.
Bill Ackman’s vocal stance extends beyond Harvard, as evidenced by his calls for the resignations of university presidents, including those of the University of Pennsylvania and MIT, following contentious appearances at a congressional hearing addressing antisemitism on campus.
Notably, Bill Ackman has also targeted Penny Pritzker, the chair of the 12-person Harvard Corporation, urging her to step down. The Harvard Corporation, as the more powerful governance body, holds fiduciary responsibility, overseeing long-range strategy, policy, planning, and transactional matters of unusual consequence.
Harvard Corporation appointed Alan Garber as interim head
In the aftermath of President Gay’s resignation earlier this month, the Harvard Corporation appointed Alan Garber as interim head, with plans for a thorough and community-engaged process in selecting a full-time replacement.
Parallel activist efforts have been observed at other institutions, with Marc Rowan, the head of Apollo Global Management, leading a campaign against the University of Pennsylvania, resulting in the resignation of Scott Bok, chair of the board of trustees.
The success of Bill Ackman’s latest endeavor hinges on winning support from Harvard alumni for the four Renew candidates seeking seats on the board of overseers. Their joint platform emphasizes the importance of qualified, prepared, and committed leadership, vowing to challenge the status quo and restore Harvard’s focus on its core values and mission.
With the Harvard Alumni Association traditionally nominating a slate, the four Renew candidates standing independently face the task of securing 3,238 alumni signatures each by the end of January to be placed on the ballot. The candidates include Zoe Bedell, an assistant US attorney; Logan Leslie, founder of Northern Rock, a company focused on small businesses; Alec Williams, an investor; and Julia Pollak, chief economist at Zip Recruiter.
Leslie acknowledged Bill Ackman’s involvement, describing him as a sounding board and a contributor to the campaign. He emphasized the need for transparency in Harvard’s governance, expressing a commitment to bring in younger outside voices not chosen through an opaque process. The campaign is eagerly awaiting the university’s response to their request to review the bylaws governing its operations.
In the previous year, over 32,000 Harvard alumni participated in the election of five new overseers, each holding office for a six-year term.