Harvard University named two top business executives to its governing board at a time of intense scrutiny and criticism of the institution from alumni, lawmakers and faculty.
Kenneth Frazier, the former chief executive officer of Merck & Co., and KKR & Co. Co-CEO Joseph Bae, were elected Sunday by Harvard Corp. with the consent of the board of overseers, according to a statement from Alan M. Garber, the university’s interim president.
“They share a commitment to academic freedom, inclusion, and the pursuit of excellence in Harvard’s mission of teaching and research,” said Garber, who replaced Claudine Gay last month.
Frazier will become a fellow of Harvard College on February 7, filling a vacancy left by private-equity billionaire David Rubenstein in June 2023. Bae will become a fellow on July 1, when Paul Finnegan, chairman of Madison Dearborn Partners, departs after 12 years on the board.
Since October 7, the oldest and richest school in the US has dealt with accusations of antisemitism on campus, experienced a donor revolt that shows no signs of abating and continues to face inquiries in two congressional committees as well as bills in the Massachusetts state house that would tax its $51 billion endowment.
Gay, the university’s first Black president, was forced to resign after allegations of plagiarism and in the wake of her widely-derided response to a Congressional hearing, when she and counterparts from the University of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Institute of Technology gave narrow legal answers to whether calling for the genocide of Jews is against school policy.
Critics, including billionaire investor Bill Ackman, have broadened their attacks to include Harvard’s support of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, the selective enforcement of free speech and the governance of the university. Ackman, who has called for Harvard Corporation’s senior fellow Penny Pritzker to resign, unsuccessfully tried to promote a slate of candidates to the overseer board. They reportedly failed to garner enough votes to get on the ballot.
Ken Griffin, one of Harvard’s biggest donors, said last week he would no longer give money to the school unless he sees fundamental change, accusing Harvard and elite colleges of producing “whiny snowflakes” instead of the future leaders of America.
“Where are we going with education in elite schools in America?” Griffin said at an investor conference in Miami, questioning whether Harvard can re-prioritize. “Or are they going to maintain being lost in the wilderness of microaggressions and a DEI agenda that seems to have no real end game.”
Frazier and another Harvard Corporation member Ken Chenault, the former head of American Express, both now work for venture capital firm General Catalyst.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Frazier touts his commitment to social justice and economic inclusion. He also co-founded OneTen, which works with companies to help get one million Black Americans into jobs paying family-sustaining wages.
Bae, who graduated from Harvard, joined KKR in 1996 and rose through the ranks until becoming co-ceo in 2021. He sits on the board of the Asian American Foundation and co-led a group that gave $45 million to Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences to expand Asian American studies.
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