In 1865, alumni won the right to elect the members of the Board of Overseers, which was previously controlled by the Commonwealth. In 1921, the right to vote in that election was extended, by means of a mail ballot, far beyond the relatively few alumni actually present at Harvard on Commencement Day. These rights reflect longstanding alumni determination to have a say in what the University does, even though turnout in recent Overseer elections has hovered at or below 20 percent.
Deciding who runs for Overseer is part of the exercise of that alumni prerogative.
A slate of candidates is nominated by a 15-member committee that must include three current or recent Overseers; members are appointed by the HAA's executive committee. The nominating committee picks candidates from among the nominations sent in by alumni and University affiliates; this year's pool included roughly 300 nominees, and the committee staff assembled background data on each of them.
Noting that his members deliberated for more than 30 hours in making up their slate, nominating committee chairman Paul J. Crowley '53 stresses that they took into account geographical distribution, academic and professional background, age, gender, and minority representation. "They put in a lot of effort," he challenges his fellow alumni electors. "Now we'd love to see similar effort put into voting!"
Alumni may also run directly for the Board as petition candidates--in 1999, by submitting on or before February 10 an official nomination form (supplied by the Secretary of the Board) containing a minimum of 262 valid signatures (gathered between November 12, 1998, and February 10) of Harvard degree-holders. (Blank forms can be provided within five working days.)
The last petition candidate to win a seat on the Board, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, LL.D. '79, ran in 1989 for Harvard-Radcliffe Alumni/ae Against Apartheid. Stephen B. Hrones '64, who ran unsuccessfully last year, announced in November that he will try again; petition candidates, he believes, "would bring a breath of fresh air" to the Board's discussions and "a different perspective" on Harvard's needs and objectives. Hrones also continues to challenge the present policy of listing nominated and petition candidates separately on the ballot, and has requested ground rules to prevent recurrences of last year's Business School alumni association mailing that urged recipients to vote and highlighted HBS candidates. Of that incident, HAA executive director John P. Reardon '60, says, "The University's position is that it would want to maintain neutrality in the election."
The names of the HAA committee's nominated candidates for Overseer and HAA elected director, and of all petition candidates available at press time, will appear in the March-April issue.