Mark Zuckerberg has kept relatively mum about antisemitism at Harvard — but he’s expected to break his silence on Friday as he endorses a Silicon Valley mogul to join a powerful panel that supervises the embattled Ivy League university, On The Money has learned.
Sam Lessin — a tech investor and former Facebook employee who also happens to be married to The Information founder Jessica Lessin — is pushing for a spot on Harvard’s Board of Overseers, a group of roughly 30 which is supposed to keep an eye on the Harvard Corporation and the university’s president.
On Friday, Lessin is slated to speak on a Zoom call at 6:30 p.m. ET with Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan about the future of Harvard and why the Facebook founder is supporting Lessin’s bid.
This will be the first time Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, has publicly discussed Harvard and the future of the school since the attacks on Israel.
“Antisemitism at Harvard is extremely disappointing and a huge problem,” Lessin told On The Money. “It needs to be solved but it’s also the canary in the coal mine in terms of a free speech problem.”
After the Oct. 7 attacks, Lessin said he called Harvard “and said I wouldn’t be donating anymore until governance and administration improved and the campus was clearly putting academics first.”
“Most of my friends who did the same left it at that, but I don’t think that is enough,” Lessin added.
Lessin has already notched endorsements from Thrive Capital founder Josh Kushner, former Oscar Health CEO Mario Schlosser and former Zappos COO Alfred Lin as well as executives from General Catalyst, Sequoia, Y Combinator, Bessemer, and Tiger Global.
Harvard’s Board of Overseers has lately become a focal point of Pershing Square founder Bill Ackman, who is nominating his own slate of candidates after leading a campaign against Claudine Gay, who resigned earlier this month.
The Board of Overseers is the school’s second-highest authority after the Harvard Corporation, with “the power of consent to certain actions such as the election of Corporation members” — they will be responsible for approving or rejecting the school’s next president. Board members hold seats for six years.
While the four candidates Ackman is pushing are all war veterans and under 40, they don’t have an understanding of the tech world, Lessin told On The Money.
In fact, almost no one involved in Harvard leadership seems to have a background in tech, he adds. This is at a time when artificial intelligence and social media have never been more important — and majors like computer science and applied mathematics have never been more popular.
At least five members of the Board are leaving this year — but under an arcane rule, only two new appointees can be write-in candidates.
The other three will have to be nominated by Harvard’s alumni association.
The group can be bureaucratic, making it difficult to get new blood onto the board.
The voting platform also can be glitchy, Lessin notes.
On Friday, Lessin and other write-in candidates expect to be told by Harvard officials how many votes — out of the 3,238 needed to get on the ballot — they have received before the Jan. 31 nomination deadline.
“My email inbox is filled with hundreds of people who can’t figure out how to set up accounts,” Lessin said.
It’s unclear why Silicon Valley is so under-represented in Harvard leadership. Part of this has to do with Bay Area’s approach to business, “Silicon Valley is all about building new stuff — they discount brand equity,” Lessin adds.
“In tech, I think a lot about platforms — we need trusted institutions like Harvard,” he adds.
Lessin also notes that Harvard’s alumni are more “decentralized” than those at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, a group of financiers mostly based in New York who successfully ousted Liz Magill as president.
Of course, at least a handful of notable Harvard alums — like Zuckerberg and Bill Gates — never actually finished their degrees.
Reps for Harvard and Zuckerberg didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
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