HARVARD THEN AND NOW: DeflateGate sits on the Harvard board!


Along with the Tootsie Roll fortune: We have a great niece who's heading off to Columbia as a freshman next fall.

For ourselves, we feel a bit sorry for the kids who have to navigate the problems which may exist at These Elite Schools Today. 

In truth, we can even feel sorry for the people in charge of supervising these high-profile schools—for example, for the twelve people who currently sit on the board which is formally known as the Harvard Corporation.

The group was subjected to a sneak attack in Monday's New York Times. They're the higher-ranking of Harvard University's two (2) governing bodies—and according to the Times report, they're charged with "weighing in" on such decisions as this:

COPELAND AND FARRELL (12/25/23): The board seeks to build a well-rounded group of people who have complementary expertise to help govern the university, said Richard Chait, a professor emeritus at Harvard who studied governance in higher education and was an adviser when the Harvard Corporation expanded in size over a decade ago.

Even after expanding, the panel is still smaller than the boards of many other leading universities, according to Dr. Chait, who said the average private university has about 30 or more board members.  

Board members are not paid for their role. “Not only is it unpaid, but there is an expectation of a reverse cash flow—all trustees have an expectation that the institution will be a philanthropic priority consistent with their means,” Dr. Chait said.

The corporation has weighed in on key questions—for example, in 2016, it approved a change to the shield of Harvard’s law school, which was modeled on the crest of an 18th-century enslaver.

Even that! Seven years ago, the members of the corporation approved a change in the law school's shield! The undaunted dozen are asked to weigh in on such "key decisions" as that!

We're not saying that their decision was wrong in that particular case. It did strike us as somewhat odd—but also, as a sign of the times—that the Times chose to highlight that "key question" as its one example of the kinds  of actions the board has been required to take in the somewhat recent past.

Today, the board is involved in a great civil war—a war concerning Claudine Gay, Harvard's current president. 

By all accounts, Gay performed quite poorly at a recent House committee hearing. For ourselves, we'd be quick to add that Rep. Elise Stefanik, her grand inquisitor, performed in a way which was substantially worse. 

To our ear, President Gay seemed wholly unequipped to respond in the face of Stefanik's persistent non-questioning questioning. In fairness, the same was true of two other presidents of elite schools who appeared on the panel with Gay. 

They seemed to have emerged from a bubble, where people like Stefanik don't exist and jumbled questions like hers don't get asked.

By now, President Gay has also been charged with various acts of plagiarism. Because it was the current board which selected Gay last year, the Times describes them as caught in "a maelstrom" of their own making—a maelstrom which stems from their possible failure to execute an adequate vetting before their choice was made.

We can't help you with that topic. We can describe our personal reaction when we read about the  embattled members of the board in the wake of that sneak attack.

Misty memories of the way we were lit the corners of our mind! We thought of the 1970 Love Story film, in which the rebellious young Ryan O'Neal battles with his father, a very wealthy, very crusty, highly old-school school Harvard grad.

As we read about the current board members, we thought of O'Neal's wealthy dad, as played by Ray Milland. 

In fact, a large amount of very big money sits on the current board. Below, you see the way the leading authority on this topic thumbnails the first three members on its alphabetical list:

Current membership:
Timothy R. Barakett: former CEO of Atticus Capital
Kenneth Chenault: former CEO of American Express
Paul Finnegan: co-CEO of Madison Dearborn Partners

Alphabetically, they're the first three on the list! That said, what the heck is Madison Dearborn? Since you almost surely don't know, we'll let the authority clue you:

Madison Dearborn Partners 

Madison Dearborn Partners (MDP) is an American private equity firm specializing in leveraged buyouts of privately held or publicly traded companies, or divisions of larger companies; recapitalizations of family-owned or closely held companies; balance sheet restructurings; acquisition financings; and growth capital investments in mature companies. MDP operates using an industry-focused investment approach and focuses on the following sectors: basic industries, business and government software and services, financial & transaction services, health care, and TMT services. Since the founders established MDP as an independent firm in 1992, the firm has raised seven funds with aggregate capital of approximately $23 billion, and has completed investments in more than 130 companies.

Madison Dearborn Partners was founded in 1992 and is based in Chicago, Illinois. The founders, John A Canning Jr, Paul J. Finnegan, Samuel M. Mencoff, and Nicholas W. Alexos, had previously made private equity investments for First Chicago Bank...

Frankly, we don't understand much of that. Also, we can't say that there's anything "wrong" about any of those revelations. 

For all we know, MDP may be doing real good in the world. That said, a lot of big money is sloshing around whenever this corporate board meets. 

What's the overall shape of the board? Here's the way the New York Times scanned the membership during its sneak attack:

COPELAND AND FARRELL: The modern corporation, which currently has 12 members, is responsible for the financial health of the university and certain key decisions, but perhaps its most important role is the selection and success of the Harvard president.

In 2022, after Lawrence S. Bacow, then Harvard’s president, announced that he planned to step down, Penny Pritzker, a board member, billionaire businesswoman and an heir of the Hyatt hotel fortune, led the corporation’s search for his successor.


Harvard’s board is led by Ms. Pritzker, who was an early backer of Barack Obama’s presidency and later served as secretary of commerce under his administration. Despite her leadership role, Ms. Pritzker, a champion of Dr. Gay’s, has not spoken publicly since the controversy began, leaving the corporation to communicate through a single public statement.

The other 10 members, in addition to Dr. Gay, include relatively unknown financiers, donors, a former justice of the Supreme Court of California, the former chief executive of American Express and former presidents of Princeton University and Amherst College.

The board does include those two former college presidents, each a scholar in her own right. In this companion piece, the Times reports that Biddy Martin (Amherst) "is a German studies scholar," while Shirley Tilghman (Princeton) is "known for her work in molecular biology."

Their scholarship seems to lighten and brighten the board in a fairly obvious way. That said, a lot of big money exists on this board. Is Pritzker the only billionaire? We can't say, but based on our reading, a few of the others could imaginably even be billionaire-adjacent.

That said, please note:

As we stated yesterday, a person can be a billionaire and do enormous good work in the world. We take that to be a blindingly obvious fact. 

Blue tribe members will also note that two board members, Pritzker and Karen Gordon Mills, were Obama cabinet officers. Beyond that, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, that former justice of the Supreme Court of California, "now serves as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace," an organization we've always regarded as a force for good in the world and as a source of sanity on "cable news" broadcasts.

A lot of talent sits on this board. Presumably, that talent represents a lot of good works in the world.

That said, good lord! There's an enormous amount of very large money sloshing around on that 12-member board. The board features ancestral ties to separate Hilton Hotel and Radisson fortunes, and even to the invention of supermarket trading stamps and the Tootsie Roll Industries empire.

That's right—Tootsie Roll Industries, an entity which came to include Charleston Chews, Charms Blow Pops, Junior Mints and Sugar Babies! For a remarkable read about this slightly gonzo entity, we'll suggest that you click here, though we note that you'll be reading about the death, at age 95, of a beloved family member.

How lightly psychedelic can this board's connections get? The leading authority offers this passage about board member Ted Wells, an extremely high-powered New York lawyer who seems to have represented every corporate miscreant still located somewhere on earth:

In 2015, Ted Wells was again hired by the NFL, this time to investigate the New England Patriots' alleged "Deflategate" infractions. His report concluded that it was "more probable than not" that Tom Brady was "generally aware" of tampering with NFL game footballs during the 2015 AFC Championship Game. Ted Wells's independence and impartiality has been called into question in the wake of the report because of his extensive prior business relations with the NFL, his use of a scientific consultancy with a reputation for questionable client-serving results, and because of his track record of success exculpating high-profile clients and corporations during public scandals.

Whatever! We're sure that Wells is a good, decent person. That said, it's one thing to get Philip Morris off the hook—but chasing after Terrific that way? It's hard to forgive Wells for that!

On balance, this board might be called "high-flying." With respect to current disasters, we offer this sociological question:

When's the last time President Gay had to venture out of the board's mahoganied rooms and interact with the salt of the earth—with people like Rep. Stefanik, who confounded Gay, and the other two presidents, during that gruesome House hearing? When's the last time President Gay had to deal with people like that?

True story! One of our own Harvard roommates was cast in the role of the Harvard roommate in the Oscar-nominated Love Story! Mainly, though, there sat the Ray Milland character, representing an older, heavily cosseted, bubble-wrapped Harvard elite.

Milland was drowning in his old money as his rebellious son went another way. Last month, President Gay—and the two other college presidents—showed few signs of knowing how to speak to those from the other side of our floundering nation's red and blue cultural tracks.

Can ivy grow on a bubble? Can it obliterate inhabitants' views of the lesser outside world?

These are the questions which came to mind as three elite college presidents seemed to be unable to speak. The woods are lovely, dark and deep—but our institutions may sometimes be hobbled by certain types of highly visible, extremely high-end versions of success.

Hail to thee, Fair Harvard! That said, the school is no Berea College. For a recent NewsHour profile of that small Kentucky school, we'll suggest that you click this. Warning:

The profile starts with a comment from Brittany Ash, its Assistant Dean of Labor.

There's a lot of big money on Harvard's board, not that there's anything (automatically) wrong with it. Giant money doesn't have to corrupt, but it may sometimes tend to cloud and distort, to render inhabitants clueless and speechless as it sloshes around.

Is there a George Bailey on this board? Based on our research, we'd float one name, but it isn't entirely clear that there necessarily is.

Tomorrow: Misty memories of the way we were inside our freshman "classrooms"


  1. Stuff happens.


  2. Madison and Dearborn are streets in downtown Chicago. Maybe the firm’s office is at their intersection.

  3. The Ivy League gets way to much press coverage, it is ironic that our esteemed press critic is going down the path of the mainstream media.

    1. Apart from people involved in the matter how is this story relevant outside tight political circles.

  4. I think it's hard for any Board of Directors to take specific actions. Board members are part-time at the organization. They're not involved in the day by day activities. It is said that the primary function of the Board is to select the leadership.

    Still, Harvard has made some decisions that changed the nature of the institution. One was to institute affirmative action., that is, to bring in a bunch of blacks who are less qualified than their fellow students. Another was to adopt the lies of DEI to justify Harvard's racial discrimination. Another was to allow academic standards to deteriorate in order to accommodate the less-qualified students they now accept.

    IMO these changes are so revolutionary that the Harvard Corporation should look specifically at them. Is the Harvard being created the Harvard that they want?

    1. The primary function of the board is to donate money to the university by funding projects such as new buildings, lap equipment, etc. They also encourage their well heeled friends to contribute. All charitable and nonprofit boards work this way. Corporations who contribute hope to hire grads and get positive PR. I see nothing wrong with this.

      Somerby works overtime to make this routine activity seem nefarious. Most Harvard undergrads today are not wealthy so the endowment helps pay their tuition. All grad students admitted are fully funded by their Departments. David thinks “affirmative action” is only for minorities but that is incorrect. It is for non-rich kids of non-famous, non-elite parents. Somerby seems to be against that, despite having benefitted fom it himself. We have all seen that he does not value his education. Is that Harvard’s fault, much less Dr Gay’s?

    2. The board brought Gay in, and it can throw her out.

    3. That’s right but she also has a contract and her testimony to congress does not violate it. Neither do politically motivated complaints about her publications.

    4. @2:20 Good point about the contract. Do you have any idea what the terms of her contract are? Or, do you have any idea of the terms of other university Presidents?

    5. Hey DIC, as an expert on why Harvard is failing so miserably you should know that Gay was part of the bunch of unqualified blacks that were piled into Harvard and wrecked the joint, you very racist person.

  5. Somerby must be in pig heaven now that the press is attacking Harvard as much as he does.

  6. "Misty memories of the way we were lit ... ". How were we lit? Sorry, our memories are misty. I am Corby.

  7. Parental rights:


  8. George Bailey is irrelevant to this discussion.

  9. Harvard has oodles of money. I expect them to pay Gay a lot to get her to go quietly.

    1. Or they could hire a General Manager to do the real work, and put President Gay in charge of building maintenance.

    2. I expect the Harvard Corp. to quietly ride this out. They got more than bargained for and they’ll put a lid on it.

    3. In Claudine Gay, they got less than they bargained for.

    4. Harvard knows these frenzies blow over.

  10. Saying big money doesn't corrupt people is like saying eating a stack of pancakes every day won't need a bigger belt. Sure if you're running marathons for curing diseases every day..

  11. “A person can be a billionaire and do enormous good work in the world.”

    Which means it’s entirely possible that the billionaires on the Harvard board are doing good work. So what’s the point of bringing up their wealth?

    1. I don't really mind him bringing it up... but it all kind of goes back to the starling revelation that there are good wildly rich people and bad ones, just like all other kinds of people. Bad ones are right wingers and win the approval of stupid jerks who vote for Trump.

    2. Starlings are wise.

  12. “ By all accounts, Gay performed quite poorly at a recent House committee hearing.”

    Including Somerby’s account, coincidentally. When it’s by “all accounts”, maybe you need to think about the creation of a narrative as opposed to the reality of the situation.
    After all, Somerby’s reasons for believing she did poorly were entirely different than others.

    1. Somerby prefers Nikki Haley’s kind of responses to questions. Gay answered truthfully under oath.

  13. The Carnegie corporation helped segregation in the school system by changing philosophy to elitist talent scouting from building libraries for all

  14. Roger Ebert has died.