Overseer Candidates’ 2024 Harvard Priorities

Nominees for the governing board explain their experiences and detail their perspectives on the University’s challenges.

Top row, left to right: Modupe Nyikoale Akinola, Nworah Blaise Ayogu, Theodore D. Chuang, Danielle A. Feinberg Bottom row, left to right: Ming Min Hui, Scott Mead, Tim Ritchie, Juan Antonio Sepúlveda Jr. 

Top row, left to right: Modupe Nyikoale Akinola, Nworah Blaise Ayogu, Theodore D. Chuang, Danielle A. Feinberg
Bottom row, left to right: Ming Min Hui, Scott Mead, Tim Ritchie, Juan Antonio Sepúlveda Jr. 
 | PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF HAA; PHOTOMONTAGE BY NIKO YAITANES/ HARVARD MAGAZINE

Each year, Harvard Magazine asks candidates for Harvard’s Board of Overseers—one of the University’s two governing boards—to answer the questions listed below. This compilation of their responses is published to help eligible voters understand the nominees’ approach to the Overseers’ role in assuring the institution’s academic quality and securing its future.

• What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities?
• What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities? 
• How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions?
• Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now?

Their answers are presented unedited, with the candidates in alphabetical order. These candidates were nominated by the Harvard Alumni Association nominating committee (along with candidates for HAA elected director; the full slates for both sets of positions are available here). As of this date, no petitioners have qualified for the ballot (Updated: read about petitioners seeking a place on the ballot here); should a petition candidate or candidates qualify for the ballot (the deadline for submitting papers is January 31), this post will be updated and extended to incorporate all people competing for election this spring.

Given the unexpected resignation of President Claudine Gay on January 2 and the appointment of Alan Garber, provost, as interim president, the new members of the Board of Overseers, when elected, are likely to be involved in the formal processes of choosing Harvard’s next president—making this year’s balloting unusually consequential.

There are eight nominees for Overseer, and an anticipated five vacancies. Overseers serve six-year terms. (Nominee Scott Mead has been an Overseer since 2022, completing an unexpired term of a Board member who concluded service early.)

Balloting is scheduled to begin April 1 and to conclude May 14 at 5:00 p.m. Photographs of the candidates were provided by Harvard Alumni Association.

 

Modupe Nyikoale Akinola ’96, M.B.A.’01, A.M. ’06, Ph.D. ’09, New York City,  Zalaznick Professor of Business and Faculty Director, Bernstein Center for Leadership and Ethics, Columbia Business School

What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities?

One of the highlights of each of my educational experiences at Harvard was being surrounded by brilliant classmates from different cultures, backgrounds, and ethnicities, many of whom had different interests, and with whom I could engage in productive dialogue around any topic. I loved leaving a gathering feeling wiser and that even though I might disagree with a classmate, doing so allowed me to gain a glimpse of life from their vantage point and understand why they valued a particular perspective or were inclined to make a decision different from the one I would choose.

I worry that in this era we have far fewer productive dialogues than we should, including on university campuses. Universities like Harvard need to help students hone the ability to engage in productive dialogue to fulfill the ultimate goal of developing students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and empathically ideally enabling them to shape their communities and the world. Another area of concern too little spoken of is the growing mental health crisis on college campuses across the country. Suicide rates across university campuses are rising. In fact, suicide is now the second leading cause of death among college students. This concerns me deeply, particularly after losing friends and acquaintances in this manner both during and following college, including as a professor.

Further, the latest research on the effects of social media on mental health and wellbeing has made it clear that one of the biggest challenges facing universities is how to best attend to the socioemotional needs of students. What additional processes, structures, and systems are needed to ensure students are supported? These are core questions that Harvard has made significant progress in addressing.

Nonetheless, doing so entails continuing to create diverse and inclusive spaces where students feel safe expressing themselves and where they have the socioemotional support to realize the tremendous potential and promise inside of them.

 

What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities?

As implied in the name, the Board should provide oversight, guiding University leadership in addressing the challenges and opportunities outlined. I see the Board as a brain trust for school leadership offering guidance, wisdom, and expertise drawing from a wide range of perspectives and professions. I try to practice what I teach and believe the Board should do everything possible to support Harvard’s leadership in advancing the mission of the school.

The Board can help the President and Senior officers foster productive dialogue and socioemotional learning—in seeing a future for Harvard that exceeds all of our expectations. The Board can offer mentorship by providing diverse external viewpoints that shape and hone the vision and by being generous with their time and other scarce resources. Another important role the Board plays is to model leadership—to serve as examples of what it looks like to be courageous, foster productive discussion, inclusivity, and to overall embody the same characteristics we seek to groom in Harvard students.

How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions?

For more than 20 years, I have helped shape the strategic direction of multinational and nonprofit organizations. I have done this while working in professional services at Bain & Company and Merrill Lynch, and as a Professor at Columbia Business School, advising global leaders on industry-defining challenges and training future for-profit and nonprofit business leaders. I have also served on several nonprofit boards, most recently as Board President of The Brearley School in New York City. These experiences have given me a unique perspective on the dynamics of organizational life, including a deep understanding of the opportunities and challenges affecting higher education.

Moreover, my research and teaching on stress, leadership development, workforce diversity, and innovation have equipped me with fundamental insights from the behavioral and social sciences that can be leveraged to help leaders generate successful outcomes for the University. Specifically, with regard to the challenge of fostering productive dialogue, I would be excited to offer insight on how to develop sustainable systems and processes that can help break down barriers caused by difference and build rich and enduring social connections between individuals. I have done this both inside and outside of the classroom, most recently earning me a Columbia University Faculty Service Award for advancing this work throughout the Columbia community. I have a deep understanding of how universities operate, and I would use the knowledge I have gained conducting research, designing courses, and leading task forces pertaining to this topic to serve as a resource for Harvard’s leadership.

Another way in which I can serve as a resource is by lending my expertise on the dynamics of stress, which can negatively affect socioemotional functioning. I have devoted my career to teaching individuals—students, senior executives, police officers, and even movie stars—tools to help them live longer and happier lives by harnessing the benefits of stress and shifting their mindsets. Based on the results of my research, I encourage people to reject the dominant narrative that stress is debilitating and to adopt a mindset that embraces the idea that stress can enhance wellbeing and performance.

Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now?

I was humbled when I learned that I had been nominated to serve as an Overseer. I have had the enormous privilege of earning four degrees from Harvard, and I want to give back to the institution that has given so much to me. Attending Harvard was a life-changing experience, and it taught me how to thrive in a diverse culture, gave me confidence in my ability to make a difference in the world, and exposed me to brilliant minds that continue to shape how I think and behave in an ever-evolving world. Helping to extend Harvard’s legacy so that it remains a standard-bearer for higher education around the globe would be a privilege and responsibility I would gladly undertake.

 

Nworah Blaise Ayogu ’10, M.D. ’15, M.B.A. ’15, Los Angeles, General Manager and Chief Medical Officer, Amazon Clinic

What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities?

The key challenges facing Harvard mirror those facing the world: 1. Driving technological innovation; 2. Embracing diversity and fostering community; and 3. Promoting justice – specifically addressing inequity and climate change. Technological innovation Harvard has always been at the forefront of technological, scientific, and medical advances. Generative AI is the newest major innovation and will change the way we learn and work. Harvard will need to think about how its pedagogy needs to change, students will need to understand how AI works as well as the limitations and dangers of AI, and Harvard will play a key role in both advancing the state of AI, developing novel applications of the technology, and most importantly decide what guardrails and regulations need to put in place. 

Embracing Diversity. Harvard should be a place where we celebrate our differences without devolving into divisiveness. A university should be a place where we can have honest discourse and disagreement. It should also be a place where everyone feels safe. Bigotry, antisemitism, islamophobia, and racism have no place at Harvard. I think of Kim Scot’s radical candor framework where to have frank discourse you have to care personally about the other person as well as be willing to challenge them directly. A prerequisite to having frank conversations is building and investing in a caring community. That means ignoring the secondary agendas and divisive rhetoric of others. It means being willing to invest in creating a diverse and connected community. Promoting justice Wealth inequality has only increased over the last decades.

As of 2021 there is an almost 6 year gap in life expectancy between blacks and whites. We live in an unequal society. We see these inequities in the workplace, in schools, in our policies, in our legal system, and in our healthcare system. These inequities are both a legacy of the past and a by-product of the systems we build and perpetuate today. Climate change is an existential threat that affects us all—and disproportionately affects those with the least. It is a problem that we have been ineffective at addressing and that a portion of society refuses to even acknowledge as an issue.

What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities?

Harvard plays three key roles in society: acting as a teacher, a leader and an innovator. As teacher, Harvard trains leaders to navigate an ever-changing landscape. As leader, Harvard needs to stand as an example and demonstrate commitment to its core values even when—especially when—those values may be countercultural. As innovator, Harvard continue to produce new research, organizations, and models to address problems in new ways. Put differently Harvard must train its students, use its voice, and create new knowledge that always looks past the world as it is and is instead focused on the world as it should be.

The role of the Board of Overseers is to support the President and senior officers by “contributing to reasoned deliberations, exercising careful and independent judgment, offering thoughtful, broad-based, and candid comments, asking probing questions, respecting the views of others, and maintaining the collegial character of the Board’s discussions.” This means listening and providing a broad perspective –

pulling on not only my varied experiences, but also those of the people in my circles. It means inspecting the strategic priorities of each school to make sure they are aligned with values of the broader community and focused on the issues of greatest import; and asking critical questions to make sure that our pedagogy is evolving to meet the changing environment students will find themselves in and that they are not being prepared for the present but being prepared for the future. Lastly the board must be aware of relevant and timely issues that arise—on campus and off—and provide a reasoned perspective on how best to respond.

How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions?

The most important issues facing Harvard are embracing diversity and fostering community, promoting justice, and continuing to innovate. Promoting diversity and inclusion is something that has always been important to me. As an undergraduate I served as co-chair of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations working across Harvard’s multiple cultural groups and the administration to promote inclusion and challenge the university to become a more diverse place and to make concrete changes to create a more inclusive environment.

As a medical student I worked with some of my classmates to create a working group and integrate health equity throughout the preclinical curriculum. Professionally I’ve worked with governments on their health equity strategies as well as published on anti-racism in medicine. At Amazon I’ve worked to establish concrete mechanisms to create more diverse teams and have experience doing so in large organizations with a high degree of scrutiny and in compliant ways. At Harvard my time as a FUP Leader, BMF Political Action Chair, PBHA mentor, and HAC member meant that much of my time and my communities were focused on addressing the justice issues we felt were important—and that experience shaped a lot of my world view.

Clinically I had the privilege to work at Bellevue Hospital, New York’s largest safety net hospital. Professionally I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we use technology and operational innovation to care for the high need populations. For example, Cityblock Health, a start-up where I served as founding medical director, is a company that combines a wholistic model of care focused on addressing medical, behavioral and social needs with technology and innovative payment models to care for high complexity and high social need patients. As a business leader at large technology company—I am regularly learning about, developing, and deploying new technology. At my company I regularly interact with leaders in fields as varied as logistics, movie production, aerospace, robotics, security, and AI. I work with a broad range of employees in engineering, product management, marketing, and finance and have a good sense of what is required to succeed in those roles and how those needs are evolving.

Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now?

I spent 9 years at Harvard and during that time I grew, learned, and had the experiences that shaped who I am today. Many of my closest friends are people who I met at Harvard. These are the people who have been there to celebrate my greatest moments and support me in the hardest. Giving back to a place that has given me so much is a privilege.

Theodore D. Chuang ’91, J.D. ’94, Bethesda, Maryland, United States District Judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland

What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities? 

For the past half century, Harvard has sought to build a campus community drawing from the full range of diverse backgrounds that make up America and the world, based on the belief that such a community, and the learning and growth that occurs when students live and learn together in such an environment, is critical to preparing students to become effective citizens and leaders once they leave Harvard. Recent events have challenged this ideal in profound ways.

With the June 2023 Supreme Court decision in SFA v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, Harvard is now confronted with the key question of whether it will continue to prioritize providing opportunities to students of all backgrounds, and whether it will identify and pursue a path forward by which it lawfully and fairly builds the kind of diverse community that meets this ideal.

Then, following the terrorist attacks of October 7, 2023, events on campus laid bare the challenge that Harvard and all college campuses have been struggling with in recent times: how to foster the free exchange of ideas in a civil and respectful manner that is the essence of an academic community, among students and faculty of diverse backgrounds, while steadfastly protecting the safety and dignity of all community members.

The solutions to these challenges will not be easy. They will require not just reviewing and modifying policies and procedures, but also finding ways to build and maintain a culture of trust, mutual respect, and shared values within an increasingly divisive national environment. But these challenges also present significant opportunities. Harvard has always prided itself on being a leader not only in higher education but also in society in general. If Harvard can provide an example that demonstrates how, in today’s world, to build a diverse campus that allows for free expression in a safe and respectful manner, it would provide an invaluable service to the academic community and the world beyond.

As for other opportunities, Harvard has the potential, through its research and scholarship, to be a leader in identifying new ways to address some of society’s profound challenges, including the fraying of trust and norms in our democracy, the need to harness the potential of AI in an efficient, safe, and equitable manner, and the need to address climate change and its impact on both the environment and communities.

What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities? 

The challenges Harvard faces are complex issues that also affect universities across the nation, and Harvard’s responses will have a tangible impact well beyond the academic community. Because the challenges are not confined to the boundaries of the Harvard campus, having trusted voices from outside Cambridge participate in addressing them can be particularly valuable. The Board of Overseers brings together a diverse array of Harvard alumni from across the nation and the world with a wide variety of skills, experience, and viewpoints, but with the shared value of having Harvard’s best interests at heart. The Board can contribute by listening to the administration, faculty, and students through its meetings, its standing committees, and its visiting committees, which serve to provide external assessments of the various Harvard schools and departments.

The Board should then exchange ideas with those members of the Harvard community and among its own members on how best to improve and advance the University. Through a respectful dialogue in which members bring their own experience and perspectives from outside the University, the Board can collectively offer constructive ideas, advice, and recommendations to assist Harvard in addressing the challenges and opportunities ahead.

How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions?

I have devoted my career to public service and have worked in senior legal roles in all three branches of the federal government. Through this work, I have gained significant experience addressing issues of broad public concern by listening to and evaluating competing arguments, engaging in dialogue with stakeholders to identify common ground, reaching decisions that balance competing interests, and implementing those solutions. I also have substantial experience serving on boards, such as the D.C. Bar Board of Governors, through which I have engaged in the exchange of ideas in search of consensus and optimal solutions to problems. More specifically, in the course of my legal work, I have gained a deep understanding of, and experience applying, many of the core principles underlying the challenges facing Harvard, including those relating to freedom of expression, due process, and equal protection and equal opportunity.

Further, through my career in law and public service, and my engagement in community organizations, I have gained substantial experience in navigating issues relating to diversity and differences. As a civil rights attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice working to uphold the rights of those subjected to discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, and disability, and as the chair of the Board of Directors of a legal services organization dedicated to serving low-income, limited English proficient immigrants, I have gained a sensitivity to and experience with protecting the interests of the disadvantaged. As a leader of Asian American bar associations, I have partnered with representatives of other diverse communities to work on issues of inclusion.

Finally, having devoted almost my entire career to public service, I have an innate appreciation of the gravity of the actions, decisions, and statements of public institutions and the impact they have on our communities. Though Harvard is a private institution, it holds a special place in the academic community, the nation, and the world, the result of which is that its words and actions carry great weight. To the Board of Overseers, I would bring that understanding and would devote myself to contributing to decisions that live up to Harvard’s values, have a positive impact on not only Harvard but the world beyond and are worthy of the members of the broader Harvard community.

Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now?

Many years after graduating from Harvard, I continue to appreciate the positive impact it has had on my life and career. I am grateful that Harvard opened doors to opportunities that otherwise would not have been available to me, a child of immigrants entering a professional world in which I had no personal or family contacts and few role models who looked like me.

Even more importantly, I have long cherished the experience of studying at Harvard, including taking classes about cultures, religions, and philosophies that were not my own, and living and learning with students from a broad array of backgrounds, including roommates from places ranging from New York to Indiana to Hawaii, and college and law school classmates from different types of communities all over the nation and the world. All of these experiences opened my eyes at a formative age to new ideas, perspectives, and viewpoints that shaped me for the better and continue to influence me today. Having gained so much from Harvard, and where the ability to maintain that kind of academic environment, campus community, and exchange of learning appears to be in question today, I believe that now is the time to step forward and serve.

Danielle A. Feinberg ’96, Oakland, California, Cinematographer; Visual Effects Supervisor, Pixar Animation Studios

What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities?

As a leader in not only education but also innovation, Harvard significantly influences how things progress in the United States and the world. So many aspects of our world are changing at an ever- increasing pace: multiple wars, a polarization that has vastly reduced the ability to have productive conversations about the most critical topics without anger or violence, extreme weather events as climate change increases its destructive course, advancements in the quality of generative AI blurring the lines between truth and fiction, the evolving landscape of higher education both in how it is viewed and what the proper criteria are to consider in the selection of students, to name a few. Two critical elements overlap here: creativity and communication.

Harvard has an almost unmatched power in the collective genius within its community, in addition to an endowment that facilitates significant initiatives, surpassing the capabilities of other institutions. An essential focus of this capability should be maintaining (and even increasing) diversity across the student body (as well as professors and staff) despite the Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action for admissions. Considering the current trajectory, a critical skill for the future leaders that Harvard is shaping will be the ability to bridge gaps stemming from this polarization to unite people to harness their collective intelligence. As Harvard continues pioneering innovative solutions to challenges, this diversity of perspectives and experience can undoubtedly enhance its problem-solving capabilities. Many groundbreaking solutions have emerged from the creativity of combining unrelated things to find a wholly unique approach.

What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities? 

The Board should be a connection to both the internal world of faculty, staff, and students and to the issues facing the external world, a connection that will be derived from each board member’s varying experiences and industries. As such, the Board should be a sounding board for the University leadership, able to provide constructive feedback, broader insight, and propose potential strategies. It’s too easy to become myopic when invested in any project or solution and the diversity of the Board of Overseers can help widen individual perspectives. I believe that throughout its history, the Board of Overseers has played a critical role in presenting a variety of viewpoints and expertise so the University can move forward in ways that benefit the entire Harvard community. Never has this been more critical than it is now.

How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions?

Diversity: My path is not a common one; I bring a variety of experiences and perspectives that bring value to many conversations. I was among the few women in the class of '96 to get a degree in computer science. Although there were numerous challenges that required some serious fortitude at times, I loved programming and refused to give up. Soon, I found myself fascinated by computer graphics. Despite the limited curriculum available, I forged my own path by securing Professor Joe Marks's guidance through two independent studies and being an active participant in his graphics research group. Unlike my co-computer-science majors, I didn’t go to Microsoft or an early dot com when I graduated. Instead, I sought out a small, unknown animation company called Pixar.

This is a theme in my life: not doing what is expected or being the typical person in the room and never letting that derail me. As I have gotten further into my career, this has led me to devote increasing time to understanding other people’s concerns, motivations, and inspirations, making it possible to orchestrate creative solutions to issues, even in a room with opposing goals. It also means I excel in advocating for people with less access by being able to represent their point of view accurately when searching for solutions to issues.

Bridging the Gap: Part of my career success has come because I excel at bridging gaps such as those between artists and technologists or opposing forces like limited budget versus pushing innovation. This helps to sort out issues and reach decisions more quickly. It has also enabled me to build teams primed for innovation despite budget pressure by understanding where and when to push the limits and where to stay more conservative. In my current position, I am a conductor of sorts on $200 million films, where I need to get 250+ people moving together, harnessing their creativity into decisions and action, to make the best movie possible before the arrival of our immovable deadlines.

Change: I spend much of my time outside of Pixar giving talks to girls about the math, science, and code behind Pixar’s films. My purpose has always been to contribute towards shifting the makeup of future STEM classrooms, thereby helping girls avoid some of the difficulties I once faced. This endeavor culminated in a TED talk viewed over 3 million times, which continues to be a valuable resource in classrooms today. I have a deep dedication to fostering positive change in the world. The Board of Overseers presents a unique opportunity to contribute to meaningful and impactful work.

Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now?

Shortly after arriving at Harvard, I distinctly recall feeling that I had finally found people like me, people with whom I resonated on some fundamental level. Coming from a public high school in Boulder, Colorado, my educational background differed from that of many fellow Harvard students, initially evoking a sense of imposter syndrome. However, I realized I was surrounded by a community of likeminded people driven by a profound thirst for knowledge, a genuine love of learning, and a deep internal drive. It was within this shared ethos that I found a deep connection with my fellow students as well as the unique environment that Harvard cultivates. I began to understand the full extent of this as I absorbed knowledge from world-class professors and witnessed groundbreaking research and innovation.

I feel deeply indebted to Harvard for the person it helped me to become and all it has made possible in my life. Not only did Harvard open doors for me, but it also gave me the strength to break through barriers. As a woman in computer science, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and the first woman in two decades to hold my position at Pixar, I have spent much of my time in places where, in some way or another, I have been told I don’t belong. Thanks to several key professors, my fellow students, and various experiences at Harvard, I learned to stop hearing those messages. Instead, I started listening, listening for different approaches and perspectives so that collectively, we could forge new and exciting paths.

We find ourselves living in unprecedented times. I've always taken great pride in being associated with Harvard, an institution renowned for its exceptional leadership in addressing challenges across all spheres. A spectrum of experiences becomes paramount for effective problem-solving, particularly now, in the face of the heightened extremity of challenges. Having the opportunity to represent the diverse worlds I belong to as Harvard navigates many pressing issues would not only give me an opportunity to give back to an institution I feel deeply indebted to, but also to contribute to the global community.

Ming Min Hui, M.B.A. ’15 (B.A. ’10, Yale University), Boston, Executive Director, Boston Ballet

What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities? 

The temptation to demonize and disconnect in the face of threat is its own special plague on humanity, one that betrays the power of intergenerational trauma and the tremendous pace of change unleashed by technological advances. The discourse surrounding the most important and urgent questions of the modern world (climate, social justice, healthcare, nationhood) devolve in the face of competing values and territorialism more often than not. Harvard is an institution that has weathered centuries of cultural and societal evolution, but now more than ever the role of institutions—particularly ones built on privilege and tradition—is often questioned.

At its core, Harvard University is an educator. Its greatest challenges lie not only in its responsibility to combat the cycle of unproductive and dehumanizing conflict for conflict’s sake, but also in weathering the existential threat of revolution for revolution’s sake. As an educator, Harvard has a varied and important role to convene great intellectual curiosity from all walks of life, to encourage deep vulnerability and courage in grappling with difficult problems, to inspire fierce compassion in the discovery of our common humanity. Writing the next chapter of that role—how it practically manifests—is the University’s greatest challenge and opportunity because it will require creating what does not yet exist, and the faith that the University has what it takes to do so.

What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities? 

The Board of Overseers should be a mirror and a telescope. It should serve both as a mechanism for Harvard’s leadership to reflect deeply on its challenges, and as a channel by which the University can surface perspectives and practices from well outside of its proverbial walls. The Board plays a crucial role in asking the hard questions and fostering healthy debate that enables the University to arrive at robust, considered solutions and deep understanding of tradeoffs in its strategies. The Board also plays a crucial role in affirming the values of the University and offering an embodied conscience for leadership to turn to.

Harvard’s responsibility to society can be thought of as one of the most important mechanisms by which we realize access and mobility within an inherently inequal playing field of society. This work is under constant onslaught—critiques from all angles on whether it should be happening at all, enough, or how. It is crucial that the Board represent a multitude of independent perspectives that reflect a broad range of experiences, while united in the common ground of unwavering commitment to Harvard’s mission and the organization’s best interests.

How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions?

My career has found a home in the service of arts and arts education out of a deep-rooted and lifelong belief that we all yearn to feel more connected with each other, to celebrate what makes us human, to be inspired by spiritual expression. The challenges I describe facing Harvard are ones shared by artistic institutions across the world. I do not claim to hold all the answers to these challenges, but my professional background has granted me a profound appreciation for the complexity’s organizations must navigate in answering them.

In my current role as Executive Director at Boston Ballet, I work closely with Boards that uphold a deep commitment to the governance of a significant and multifaceted nonprofit. I have been fortunate to learn from their example, and to serve on the Board of an arts & culture technology nonprofit. These experiences have impressed upon me the value of engaged leadership, deep understanding of mission, trusting partnership between management and boards, and wisdom from a diverse group of voices. I have deep empathy for Harvard’s leadership, faculty, staff, and students in its tireless efforts to create an ever better University, and all that it stands for.

Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now?

Harvard has changed my life in ways I didn’t think possible for the daughter of Chinese immigrants to America—a gift I am committed to preserving for others no matter how they look or where they’re from. The Harvard community and brand commands immense power, and with that power comes immense responsibility. The University is uniquely poised to serve as an example of practical and moral leadership for the rest of the world, and as a beacon of hope in an immensely turbulent time that demands healing and strength. The Board of Overseers holds an immensely privileged role in supporting the University’s navigation of those challenges; I feel a deep sense of purpose, energy, and readiness for that work with the appreciation of how much is at stake.

Scott Mead ’77 (M.Phil. ’79, University of Cambridge; J.D. ’82, University of Pennsylvania), London, England , Photographer;  Founder, Bramley Studio

What are the most important challenges facing the university—and what are its most significant opportunities? 

Through my service as an Overseer for the past nearly two years, I have had a front row seat in observing and discussing the many challenges Harvard faces in defining and meeting its multiple missions both within the University and in the world beyond. These challenges, and the need for Harvard’s leadership in meeting them, have never been more compelling than today.

One critical mission is to provide rigorous thought, clear leadership and decisive action on many of the world’s current and future key issues and debates in a safe and open environment. Harvard must also challenge itself to evaluate, adapt and evolve in a rapidly changing world driven by technology and the rise of artificial intelligence, political and social polarization, and global threats to basic human liberties.

All these trends are occurring in the context of increasing inequality, the aftermath of a global pandemic and the ongoing and increasing threat of climate change. These complex, interconnected issues underscore Harvard’s absolute need to further broaden access from all elements of society and all areas of the world. The world’s most accomplished and impactful students and scholars should be at Harvard and we need to do all that we can to make this goal a reality.

Harvard also has the challenge, the opportunity, and the responsibility to encourage every student and faculty member to engage deeply and safely in these ethical and philosophical debates, to find meaningful and accessible creative outlets for inner thoughts, ideas and visions, and to provide the teaching and facilities for all this to happen in the most positive and productive ways.

What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to these challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities? 

In my current service to Harvard, I have seen the Board of Overseers effectively playing its central role in bringing an independent, broad, strategic and considered perspective to the process of oversight and governance across all of Harvard. The Overseers must continue to help the university more broadly to ensure transparency, safe and open debate and meaningful and positive evolution and change.

The Overseers serve as an experienced and committed resource to support Harvard, its faculty, students and staff to meet their many missions as effectively as possible, in particular through the Visitation Process which involves Overseers and outside experts and occurs regularly with every major department, school and area of Harvard. Having participated in five Visiting Committees in the past two years, with two more scheduled for this spring, I have fully engaged in this critical Overseer role in providing perspective and judgment as all parts of Harvard evaluate and assess their past and present performance and prepare for and identify their future opportunities and challenges.

How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions?

In my various Overseer responsibilities, I have been able to bring my extensive experience as an artist, my numerous roles and experiences in helping create change in arts and educational boards and my decades of living in Europe and Asia to help the Harvard maximize its most significant opportunities and confront its deepest challenges.

I have also long been involved with Harvard through visiting committees, Deans’ Advisory Boards (the Law and Design Schools), a term as an elected Harvard Alumni Association director and numerous other roles. In addition, I have “experienced” Harvard through the eyes of four of my children as well as their classmates and friends. Therefore, I feel I have a deep sense of Harvard on all levels and the challenges and opportunities it faces and how to move towards possible solutions.

I have been an active and serious photographer since the age of 13 and full-time for the past nearly twenty years, working from Bramley Studio, a creative hub I established and lead from which numerous public and private art projects are developed and realized. Bramley Studio also works to incubate and support a broad global group of young and diverse artists as well as provide outreach to promising students from local schools.

As a practicing artist, I have had many solo and group exhibitions, published numerous books and created work that is in many public and private collections around the world, including hanging at Harvard in the Law, Business and Kennedy Schools. In addition, I have served on many major arts and educational boards, helped implement positive and often overdue broadening in diversity of leadership in each, and created and supported many arts initiatives throughout the world. I will continue to deeply draw on these professional experiences in creativity and change as the Overseers deliberate on important arts, humanities, ethical and cultural decisions regarding faculty, facilities, courses and research.

I am hoping to continue bring to Harvard my broad personal, professional and life experiences in the arts, my international perspective from decades of living and working in Europe and Asia, and my deep knowledge of and commitment to the University to help the identify and meet the many challenges before it. In this context, I am also hoping to continue to broaden Harvard’s global reach and access and provide experienced and thoughtful input to the Overseers and the broader Harvard Community.

Why are you standing as an overseer now?

I was honored to be asked to stand for another Overseer term based on my service to date and hope to have the chance to take my role and missions even further in positive and impactful ways.

In my first nearly two years as an Overseer, I have focused on contributing to the debate on the central and evolving role of the arts and humanities, particularly in broadening access to the arts and exploring ethical issues. I have also worked to bring an international perspective and voice to discussions and debates from my many decades of living in Europe and Asia. All of these areas are even more important and timely now than when I was first elected two years ago.

I was the first member of my family to attend Harvard and it opened up unimaginable opportunities for which I am deeply grateful. I spent a large amount of time in my early years in Erie, Pennsylvania, a small, former industrial town that has been buffeted by the forces of change and where my first job was carrying my journalist grandfather’s cameras and film on photo shoots and assignments.

Harvard exposed me to an extraordinarily diverse group of students, professors, coaches and an incredibly broad debate and dialogue on fundamental, enduring and evolving ideas and issues. Many of my life and career assumptions were challenged in the most positive ways, and I was often out of my comfort zone. This was a valuable and at times difficult experience, but one which I believe can be an important part of anyone’s time at Harvard and certainly was for me.

I strongly believe that the art and humanities, and the ethical debates which flow from them, play an increasingly important and central role as society engages in political and social debate as well as coming to grips with the appropriate direction and limits of artificial intelligence. Like all other areas, these will benefit from broader and more inclusive voices, something I have worked to ensure as an Overseer and also beyond Harvard in my many other roles on arts and education boards.

As we consider and confront the key ethical, philosophical and political issues before us in today’s challenging on and off campus world, intense engagement and opportunities to study these subjects are critical and central elements in Harvard’s mission. Arts and humanities, and global perspectives, need even broader and deeper voices on the Overseers. Should I have the chance to serve another term, I will continue to be among those voices in even more positive and committed ways.

Tim Ritchie, M.P.A. ’98 (B.A. ’83, Davidson College; J.D. ’87, Duke University), Boston, President, Museum of Science

What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities? 

I believe Harvard faces one enduring challenge, and that rising to this challenge will help it address other important ones. This is the challenge to produce graduates who will live lives of active hope. What will Harvard inspire and equip its graduates to be and do? How will Harvard students use their immense talents? What character will they take into the world? Harvard—through its leadership, faculty, rich tapestry of schools, and culture—should do all it can to produce graduates who will pour their energies into the well-being of their communities and our world. Its graduates should have the courage to work actively against the forces of fear, intolerance, and ignorance.

To these ends, Harvard must work hard to create the conditions for students to deepen their sense of curiosity, love for learning, and willingness to engage with the world. Students should be encouraged to take classes outside of their majors, to participate in the life of the school outside of their course of studies, and to emerge as fully rounded as possible. This kind of exposure can produce a level of understanding, courage, and humility that will equip them to engage with the world and make a positive difference. A culture that fosters curiosity, courage, and humility—when linked with an abiding commitment to kindness—is one that can safeguard civil discourse on campus. A culture of curiosity and kindness makes it possible for students and faculty to express strongly held opinions, contrarian views, and uncomfortable positions without fear and without acrimony. Harvard’s history, mission, vision, faculty, and student body give it all it needs to produce graduates who will live lives of active hope. They give Harvard the capacity to create a culture of curiosity and kindness. Harvard’s leadership must find a way to bring a great deal of intentionality to these ends. The world is watching.

What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities? 

The Overseers’ primary role is to work with the University’s leadership to ensure that Harvard fulfills its mission, realizes its vision, and stays true its highest values. Though the Overseers do not have legal authority, they have the obligation to serve as trusted advisors, truth-tellers, and thought partners. In their committee service, they should be available and energetic, leading when called to do so, responsive always. To these ends, the Overseers have a responsibility to stay close to the University’s programs, faculty, and students. They should be aerobic listeners, frequent observers, and occasional participants. Doing so will enable Overseers to better address issues and provide guidance. Overseers also have an obligation to serve as a voice of the communities outside of Harvard. Harvard has an outsized impact on its local community, the nation, and the world. Overseers should help the University’s leadership see Harvard as others see it, and to help Harvard respond in ways those communities consider meaningful. Overseers have the duty to help Harvard respond to public challenges. Harvard is always in the public’s eye, and is sometimes on the forefront of wrestling with complicated issues facing our society. Harvard’s administration needs a board of overseers with a wide range of experience and viewpoints to help it navigate these times with wisdom, integrity, and courage.

How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions?

Over the years, as a leader of large cultural institutions, I have learned the value of having a trusted Board of Advisors. As the Chair of the Association of Science and Technology Centers’ Board of Directors, I have learned how to serve as a partner to the leadership of a globally significant organization. These experiences will help me understand how to both support Harvard’s leadership and how to add value of my own. As a Boston resident, I will bring a local perspective to the Board of Overseers. Harvard has an obligation to be a good partner in the Boston community, integrating well with its neighborhoods, institutions, governments, and citizens.

I believe I can help the University listen and respond to the region’s hopes and needs. I will bring to the board a perspective shaped by a diverse career. In addition to leading museums, I have represented clients on death row, served as an educator in Birmingham Alabama’s largest public housing community, and worked with adults with profound intellectual disabilities. These experiences have cultivated in me a respect for the value of each person, and a deep desire to work for the well-being of everyone. I will bring a sense of urgency to Harvard’s task of producing graduates who will make their lives count for goodness. I will also bring to the board the perspective of a person who has lived in many places. I have lived in the deep south, the Midwest, the west coast, the east coast, and abroad. I have a genuine love and respect for every place I’ve lived. I believe Harvard has much to gain from understanding the hopes and aspirations of people the world over.

Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now?

I am standing for election because I believe I might be of use to Harvard. Harvard is the most influential university in our country, and arguably the most influential in the world. It carries with it an active optimism the world is hungry for. It stands for a set of ideas that can help us create a humane and sustainable world. And yet, as the world changes, so must Harvard, always beginning again. It would be an honor to help Harvard respond to the challenges it faces and the opportunities it has. It would be a joy to help it remain strong and meaningful in a world that needs it.

Juan Antonio Sepúlveda Jr. ’85 (M.A. ’87, University of Oxford; J.D. ’93, Stanford Law School), San Antonio, Texas, Calgaard Distinguished Professor of Practice in Political Science and President’s Special Adviser for Inclusive Excellence, Trinity University

What are the most important challenges facing the University—and what are its most significant opportunities? 
While Harvard faces many internal and external challenges, three of the most important are: a rapidly changing world and the need for constant innovation; determining how Harvard becomes even more diverse in a post-race conscious admissions world; and rebuilding trust in higher education and the importance of a college degree.

First, in a world that is changing faster every day, Harvard faces the imperative of evolving alongside these changes. While we are extremely proud of our global brand, we shouldn’t rest on our past achievements. Rather, we must continually strive to excel, embracing flexibility, adaptability, and a willingness to take risks. As artificial intelligence reshapes industries and climate change poses global challenges, Harvard must ensure its students are equipped with the skills to navigate a dynamic world. By fostering an environment that encourages innovation and risk-taking, Harvard can enhance the student experience and amplify the impact of its research, solidifying its position as a leader in higher education.

Second, a key part of Harvard’s mission has been to help produce diverse, global citizen leaders who go on to have impact in their communities and the world. As Harvard grapples with the Supreme Courts’ recent decision and as societal shifts demand a nuanced approach to diversity, Harvard can stay true to its values of creating a diverse community of global citizen leaders and take the lead on redefining diversity and fostering a sense of belonging for all students. “Communities that welcome diverse perspectives thrive not because they endorse all as valid but because they question all on their merits,” President Gay stated. After all, it’s our people, that make Harvard special.

Third, Harvard must confront the contemporary skepticism surrounding the value of higher education. With concerns about rising costs, student debt and perceptions that college degrees no longer guarantee success, the institution faces the task of rebuilding trust in the importance of a college education. As President Gay said, “Rebuilding trust in the mission and institutions of higher education won’t be easy. It lies partly in our courage to face our imperfections and mistakes, and to turn outward with a fresh and open spirit—meeting a doubtful and restless society with audacious and uplifting ambitions, present in both the research we undertake and the students we educate, present in the world we are changing every day by fulfilling our mission.

What is the Board of Overseers’ role in Harvard’s response to those challenges—and in its efforts to realize those opportunities? 

In response to these challenges, I believe there are at least three important roles that the Board of Overseers can play. First, the Board can to be a strong, strategic and generative partner alongside the Harvard Corporation; second, the Board, through its alumni members can serve as a bridge between Cambridge and the outside world; and, third, as a working volunteer group, the Board can bring different perspectives, experiences and backgrounds to the governing table via its diverse members. From its inception, Harvard’s Board of Overseers has operated on a dual track of governance with the President and its Fellows (the Corporation).

The Board of Overseers’ 30 elected alumni members play a significant and unique role in guiding Harvard University's response to higher education challenges and capitalizing on opportunities. In broad terms, the Board of Overseers operates as a sounding board for the President’s strategic priorities, plans, and initiatives—advising and helping oversee the University's strategic direction. More specifically, it directs the visitation process, where members serve on over 50 visiting committees that periodically review, externally benchmark, and provide guidance and feedback to the different Harvard schools and departments from the Faculty of Arts & Sciences.

In addition to the internal work of the Overseers, the Board also engages in constant environmental monitoring, learning together about significant university topics. It is truly a working board that meets five times a year. Each alumni member brings to the table his or her love for Harvard and deep commitment to helping it become an even better place for the next set of students to walk through its halls.

How do your experiences and interests bear on the prior two questions?

I have had a blessed life. And my Harvard education has been a key part of the incredible opportunities I’ve had along the way. I believe my diverse career and personal experiences along with my ongoing interest in expanding access and connection to groups that have not historically had deep ties to the broader Harvard community will be an asset to the Board of Overseers.

In my career journey, I have spent more than three decades working in the public and nonprofit sectors at local, state, and federal levels. As the head of a national strategy firm, I worked in more than thirty- five states in low income urban, suburban, rural, and American Indian reservation communities with diverse stakeholder groups. In politics, I worked on civic engagement and voter registration and education efforts, particularly in the Latino community. I was the Texas State Director for Obama for America in 2008 and served as the DNC’s Senior Advisor for Hispanic Affairs in 2012 as we helped re-elect President Obama with record level Hispanic support. I served as a political appointee in the Obama Administration and led the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and designed the first-ever White House Hispanic Policy Conference along with twenty White House Hispanic Community Action Summits in fourteen different states.

More recently, I served on the Biden-Harris Transition Team. As a Senior Vice President for PBS, I led their Station Services Division. Working with 161 independent PBS local stations, I helped strengthen them individually and improved their connections both to their communities and to one another as part of the greater PBS system. I presently serve as the President’s Special Advisor for Inclusive Excellence and as a Professor of Practice in Political Science at Trinity University.

I came to Cambridge as an underdog—a first generation, low-income, working class Mexican American from Topeka, Kansas. Harvard opened up a big world to me. Harvard helped me gain my own version of the American Dream. However, I recognize that not all underrepresented minorities and low-income students have had the same experience at Harvard. My multifaceted career, commitment to diversity and inclusion, and personal background uniquely position me to contribute meaningfully to Harvard’s continued pursuit of excellence and inclusivity. I’m dedicated to ensuring that Harvard remains a place where underdogs, irrespective of their background, can thrive.

Why are you standing for election as an Overseer now?

The honest answer is because I was asked if I would be willing to have my name put forward as part of a nomination slate, and because I loved my time at Harvard. No one sits around thinking they should stand for the Harvard Board of Overseers—and if they do, they shouldn’t be on the board. When I saw the (617) area code on my iPhone voicemail screen, I instantly was transported back to my time at Harvard and all the great memories I experienced, and I couldn’t help but smile. Where else could a low-income, working class, first-generation Mexican-American kid from Topeka, Kansas have the chance to chase his American Dream?

I am honored to even be considered for this leadership position and I thank the Nominating Committee for asking me to consider the possibility. Running for election as an Overseer at this juncture in my life presents a unique opportunity to tap my diverse career experiences spanning public service, community building, the nonprofit sector, politics, public media, and higher education to help Harvard move forward in the ever-evolving higher education landscape. I have dedicated a significant portion of my volunteer time to nonprofit board service, focusing on local, regional, and national organizations whose missions resonate with my values and beliefs. I want to take all that I have learned along the way and bring it to my service as an Overseer—listening actively, being open-minded, bringing natural curiosity and a willingness to learn, asking challenging questions with humility, having a strong commitment to service, balancing advocacy and inquiry, being dependable and accountable, all while holding a deep passion in my head and heart for the cause.

My ongoing commitment to expanding access and connection to underrepresented groups within the Harvard community aligns with the university’s goals of producing diverse global citizen leaders who will have an impact on their communities and the world. As an Overseer, I can actively contribute to assisting our schools and departments in fostering a deeper sense of belonging for all students, ensuring that Harvard remains a beacon of educational excellence and inclusivity.

Read more articles by: John S. Rosenberg

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