Harvard’s Governing Boards Refreshed

New Corporation members and  Overseers’ leaders

From left: Penny S. Pritzker and Carolyn A. “Biddy” MartinPhotograph on left © Moshe Zusman Photography Studio. Photograph on right courtesy of Amherst College

It’s the changing of the University guard: as President Drew Faust conducts her last Commencement and president-elect Lawrence S. Bacow prepares to succeed her on July 1, Harvard’s two governing boards have new personnel, too.

  • The Corporation had a known vacancy as Faust steps down and Bacow, a member since 2011, prepares to move into Massachusetts Hall. But Joseph J. O’Donnell ’67, M.B.A. ’71—like Bacow, elected in 2011—is also stepping down. Accordingly, Penny S. Pritzker ’81 (former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and a past Harvard Overseer) and Carolyn A. “Biddy” Martin (president of Amherst College, former chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and former provost of Cornell) have been elected fellows, effective July 1.
  • The Board of Overseers will have fresh leaders in the new academic year, as Susan L. Carney ’73, J.D. ’77, has been elected president and Gwill E. York ’79, M.B.A. ’84, will serve as vice chair of the executive committee. They succeed Scott A. Abell ’72 and Tracy P. Palandjian’93, M.B.A. ’97, who have held the reins this year. (One element of continuity in the transition: Abell and Palandjian served on the search committee that resulted in the election of Bacow as twenty-ninth president—as did Carney.) In addition, five new Overseers will join the board following the annual election, the results of which are to be announced on Commencement day.

The Newcomers…

Penny Pritzker, long involved with her alma mater, took a slight diversion from one of her intended engagements, as a leader of The Harvard Campaign, when President Barack Obama appointed her to lead the Commerce Department. Now, she returns as a member of the Corporation. “It’s an incredible honor and privilege to be returning to Harvard in this important role,” she said in a statement in the University news announcement. “I am deeply grateful to this university community for its transformative impact on my life and career, helping to shape not only my learning but also my values and commitment to others. Harvard’s faculty, students and staff are dedicated to academic rigor, world-class research, and making positive contributions to people across America and throughout the globe.”

A leading member of a leading Chicago family, Pritzker—according to the news announcement—founded and led diverse businesses in real estate, hospitality, financial services, and other industries. She is founder and chair of PSP Partners (a global private investment firm) and its affiliates, Pritzker Realty Group PSP Capital, and PSP Growth. She has chaired the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and has been a trustee of Stanford, where she earned her J.D. and M.B.A.

At Harvard, in addition to her 2002 election to the Board of Overseers, Pritzker was a founding member of the Corporation’s committee on facilities and capital planning, following the reforms in governance implemented in late 2010; given her real-estate experience, it was natural for her to be an adviser on Allston planning. She has served on visiting committees for the Harvard Art Museums, the College, the Graduate School of Design, and the Graduate School of Education. Pritzker and her husband, Dr. Bryan Traubert, have supported work on childhood obesity at the public-health school. The redesign of Cabot Science Library and reconfiguration of the common spaces, now named Pritzker Commons, reflect her support during the campaign. In many respects, she seems to bring to her new role many of the strengths and experiences that O’Donnell offered to the Corporation, plus, of course, her own interests and insights.

At a moment when Harvard president-elect Lawrence S. Bacow has expressed deep concern about rising antipathy toward higher education and research universities, Carolyn A. “Biddy” Martin is a multitalented educator, with relevant experience across the sector. A first-generation student from a Virginia family, she earned her bachelor’s degree from the College of William & Mary, a master’s degree from Middlebury College’s program at the Johannes Gutenberg Universität in Mainz, Germany, and a Ph.D. in German literature from UW-Madison. According to the Harvard news announcement, Martin served on Cornell’s faculty for more than 20 years as a distinguished scholar of German studies and women’s studies. As provost from 2000 to 2008, she oversaw the development of a new life-sciences building, elevated the stature of humanities research and education, implemented a major financial-aid initiative that replaced need-based loans with grants, and developed the university’s priorities for a major capital campaign.

Martin was chancellor of her doctoral alma mater from 2008 to 2011—and thus knows, at first hand, what cuts in state higher-education budgets since the Great Recession have meant to flagship public universities. (Wisconsin has also been the scene of fierce political battles about professors’ speech and politics, institutional autonomy, and even tenure.) She resigned in 2011 to take the helm at Amherst, one of the nation’s premier liberal-arts institutions. She has championed the liberal arts and furthered Amherst’s leadership in ensuring access for low-income students. Martin, who has championed diversity, inclusion, and free expression, is one of the few openly gay higher-education leaders in the country. She launched Amherst’s $625-million capital campaign publicly this past April.

“I am honored to be asked to serve on the Harvard Corporation,” Martin said in the news announcement.  “The values that guide Harvard and the example it sets matter, not only to Harvard and its future, but also to the future of American higher education more broadly. I look forward to working with President Bacow and the members of the Corporation to help steward this remarkable institution and promote its mission in the world.”   

She will know at least one fellow Corporation member well: Shirley M. Tilghman, Princeton president emerita, who was elected to Harvard’s governing board in late 2015, is also an Amherst trustee. In the sense that Martin succeeds Bacow—who of course remains on the Corporation as president—the board retains in active service a strong complement of higher-education leaders.

Susan Carney
Photograph by Harold Shapiro

Overseers’ president Susan Carney has been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit since 2011. Previously, she served as deputy general counsel at Yale, where she was involved in a broad range of university issues; and as associate general counsel of the Peace Corps. She has chaired the Overseers’ standing committee on humanities and arts, and served on its executive and nominating committees, among others. Carney also served on various visiting committees, including those for the Medical School and School of Dental Medicine. (Her husband is journalist Lincoln Caplan ’72, J.D. ’76, a frequent contributor to and contributing editor of Harvard Magazine.)

Gwill York
Photograph by Sam Moody Photography

Gwill York co-founded and is a managing director of Lighthouse Capital Partners, a venture-capital firm. She has been an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Business School, and is a member of the dean’s advisory group for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and co-chair of the Boston Major Gifts Committee. York co-chairs the Corporation-Overseers joint committee on alumni affairs and development, and has been a member of visiting committees to the Art Museums and to departments including astronomy and statistics. She chairs the board of the Boston Museum of Science, and serves on the boards of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Partners HealthCare (the parent to Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital). Her husband, Paul Maeder, M.B.A. ’84, is founder and partner at Highland Capital Partners.

…and Their Predecessors

About Lawrence Bacow’s Corporation service, not much more need be said, but everything could be: he chaired the committees responsible for University financial matters and capital projects—so he comes to the presidency unusually steeped in the issues before him. He has helped set strategy and policies for Harvard, and now has the opportunity to implement them and alter course as he determines what is in the institution’s best interests.

Joseph O’Donnell, a gregarious Boston business executive and past Overseer, was a member of the Allston Work Team, which devised the current master plan governing Harvard development there, when he joined the Corporation. He brought to the governing board broad and deep fundraising experience (including service as a member of the executive committee of the $2.6-billion fund drive that concluded in 1999)—a valuable asset heading into the monumental Harvard Campaign, now concluding. He also had a continuing passion for the College, as parent of Kate ’09 and her sister, Casey ’11. In March 2012, he and his wife, Katherine A. O’Donnell, signaled the seriousness and ambition of the campaign by making their own $30-million gift.

O’Donnell served as a co-chair of the campaign planning committee and then of the fund drive proper; following Faust’s kickoff address on September 21, 2013, O’Donnell roused the crowd by promising to exceed the audacious, $6.5-billion goal (and disclosed that daughter Kate was already serving as her class’s fifth-reunion chair). A classic Boston and Harvard leader, O’Donnell brought down the house with this thoroughly Crimson tale—entertaining the audience members even as he put the squeeze on them:

I was a scholarship kid, full financial aid at Harvard and then at Harvard Business School.…Without a scholarship, I might have ended up working at a car wash. Or maybe I’d have owned the car wash—or maybe I’d own a chain of car washes, I’m not sure.

My personal story…began with Fred Glimp [the late dean of admissions and financial aid, dean of the College, and vice president for alumni affairs and development]. He admitted me…he took a big chance on me, and he was my freshman adviser. I remember like yesterday going in to see him with my study card.…I was going to be a nuclear scientist.…Fred took a look…and said, “I don’t think so.”…For the next three years, Fred checked in on me—he was tremendous, a wonderful mentor.

I thought he was the greatest guy in the world—until about six months before my fifth reunion.…He called me for lunch…and he said to me, “I’d like you to think about something.” And I said, “Sure, what’s that?” And he said, “I’d like you to chair your fifth reunion.” And…I said, “Fred, I’m really busy, I don’t think so.” With that, he leaned over and he looked at me in a way I’d never seen him look before and said, “I’m not asking. I’m calling in my marker.”

Scott Abell, concluding his service as an Overseer, is retired chair and CEO of Abell & Associates Inc., a financial-services firm. He was president of the Harvard Alumni Association during the 2000-2001 academic year, and was honored with an HAA Award in 2003; he also did a stint as development dean for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Tracy Palandjian is co-founder and CEO of Social Finance Inc., which harnesses outside capital to address social challenges through social-impact bonds and other financing techniques.

Read the Corporation announcement here. Read the Overseers announcement here.

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