who has donated about $50 million to Harvard, told Reuters in an interview he is endorsing Zoe Bedell, Logan Leslie, Julia Pollak, and who has donated about $50 million to Harvard, told Reuters in an interview he is endorsing Zoe Bedell, Logan Leslie, Julia Pollak, and

Billionaire hedge fund investor William Ackman gained notoriety lately by endorsing a campaign led by fellow Harvard alums that seeks a dramatic change in the way the institution is run. Collectively, they were successful in pressuring Harvard President Claudine Gay to resign. Ackman is now supporting four dissident alumni running for seats on the board of overseers in an attempt to further overhaul the school’s leadership.

This growth poses a significant challenge to the current board, whose thirty members are typically selected by the alumni association of the institution. Ackman’s support for these four write-in candidates is consistent with his activist investing style. In the business sector, he is renowned for pushing for important reforms by applying for board positions in organisations.

As with his previous business operations, Ackman’s engagement essentially signifies a strategic alliance with the dissident alumni. This action is indicative of a consistent desire to restructure Harvard’s governance, using strategies refined by his involvement in shareholder agitation.

There is a big giver to Harvard named Ackman who has given around $50 million. He is supporting Zoe Bedell, Logan Leslie, Julia Pollak, and Alec Williams. These people are competing for spots on the board of overseers, which is the university’s second-highest ruling body. They have a range of academic skills from Harvard, including bachelor’s, law, and business degrees. Ackman says that this addition of “fresh young blood” to the board could bring about the change he thinks Harvard needs.

His support is based on the idea that Harvard needs to be changed. He has said bad things about the institution in more than one way. Before anything else, Ackman is worried about how Harvard will handle racism cases after Hamas’s attack on Israel in October and Israel’s later military moves in Gaza. Second, he doesn’t agree with how Harvard handles its diversity and inclusion programmes, saying that they might hurt equality instead of helping it.

Ackman’s main reason for backing these candidates is that he thinks Harvard needs to change. His complaints are mostly about how the university handles sensitive problems and how it tries to create an open setting while still following merit-based rules.

Ackman underlined that the candidates he is endorsing are a collection of very talented and motivated people, all 38 years of age, who have served in the military. He believes Harvard should take note of their candidature. A Harvard spokeswoman did not, however, immediately provide a reaction.

The four candidates have laid out their platforms in a comprehensive dossier that Reuters was able to access. These goals include protecting free expression, fighting harassment and bullying, and addressing financial mismanagement—particularly with regard to Harvard’s enormous $50.7 billion endowment. The endowment has come under fire for its poor performance, which included a meagre 2.9% return in fiscal 2023 compared to the market’s 20% increase.

Ackman has publicly charged Harvard of mismanaging and wasting his contributions. Pershing Square Capital Management, his hedge fund, managed $18 billion in assets last year and earned a respectable 27% return.

Not included in the Harvard Alumni Association’s nomination process, these candidates must get at least 3,300 signatures from former students by the end of January, which is equal to 1% of the eligible voter base, in order to be considered for the spring board election. In the past, the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper of the institution, has reported that the participation percentage in these kinds of elections has typically been low, averaging 8.1%.

Harvard Forward, a group that supports fossil fuel divestment, successfully challenged the board twice before in 2020 and 2021, winning four board seats. Rewinding even earlier, in 1989, dissident alumni backed a petition to elect Archbishop Desmond Tutu in order to put pressure on Harvard to get out of businesses associated with South African racial apartheid. These incidents are representative of a long history of campaigns led by alumni advocating for important adjustments to the university’s financial and governance policies.


On January 2, amid allegations of plagiarism and controversy surrounding her congressional testimony addressing antisemitism at Harvard, Gay, the university’s first Black president, unexpectedly resigned. Alan Garber, the chief academic officer and provost of Harvard, assumed the role of acting president in her absence.


Former Navy commander and real estate tycoon Williams presented his group’s idea to Reuters, expressing their outsider viewpoint yet driven by a genuine desire to restore the university’s fundamentals.

Williams said that he had previously worked with Ackman when he was an intern at the investor’s family foundation six years ago, before he moved back to his home state of Idaho. And his friendship with Bedell, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, and Leslie, an Atlanta-based entrepreneur from their business school days, fueled their conversations about starting a campaign to win seats on the board of overseers. They began writing their position paper on Christmas Eve, motivated by their worries over Harvard’s future.

Appointing himself to this group, Pollak is the chief economist of the online job marketplace ZipRecruiter (ZIP.N). Prior to joining the others, he was a write-in candidate.

The four contenders all said how much they loved Harvard, a storied university that has taught eight US presidents, ranging from John Adams to Barack Obama. Leslie emphasised that while the institution is not doomed to collapse, it needs outside voices on the board to push for better management leadership.

Their main worries are related to Harvard’s financial situation. They emphasised that the endowment’s recent returns are insufficient to meet the university’s operating costs, which drives up undergraduate tuition, which is now about $80,000 per year and out of reach for the majority of students. They are requesting that the endowment operate in accordance with industry norms and that the university cut down on its administrative expenses.


The board of overseers is important, but not as powerful as the Harvard Corporation, which is a smaller governing group that directly controls the university’s business. One important way they use their power is through visiting, which lets them interact with Harvard’s departments and teachers, giving feedback and asking important questions.

Most members of the overseers serve for six years. But because Harvard Forward candidates did so well in 2020, both the overseers and the Corporation decided to change the rules for the election. This was done to make it harder for people to get chosen without the support of the alumni group.

Their thinking came from worries that a nomination process with no limits could be swayed by certain interests, making it more like political campaigns. The number of overseers who can serve on the board at the same time is currently limited to six, who are chosen through a petition process.

This year, there are also people running as write-in candidates, in addition to the candidates backed by Ackman. People like tech developer Sam Lessin and lawyer Harvey Silverglate are among them. Their efforts are similar to those of other graduates who are also looking for ways to have an impact on Harvard’s leadership without being on the board.

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