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Harvard alumni backed by billionaires fail to make cut for board ballot

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LA Post: Harvard alumni backed by billionaires fail to make cut for board ballot
February 02, 2024
Svea Herbst-Bayliss - Reuters

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

(Reuters) - Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and hedge fund manager Bill Ackman failed on Friday to get candidates they backed to join Harvard's board of overseers.

The two billionaires, who were acting independently, threw support behind the candidates after Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned last month amid criticism of her handling of antisemitism on campus in the wake of Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel, and claims of plagiarism in her earlier academic career.

She and Harvard have denied the allegations. Gay, who was Harvard's first Black President, said in a statement that stepping down was in the best interest of the Ivy League school given the controversy.

The board of overseers is the school's second-highest governing body, with the power to approve or reject the hiring of Harvard's president. Each year, five seats on the 30-member board are up for election, and only Harvard alumni are eligible to vote.

Some of the candidates said that Harvard informed them late on Friday that they did not meet the required threshold to get on the ballot. Sam Lessin, the candidate backed by Zuckerberg, said Harvard told him he received 2,901 votes. Zoe Bedell, one of four candidates backed by Ackman, said she, Alec Williams, Logan Leslie and Julia Pollak received between 2,300 and 2,700 votes each. Some 3,238 votes were needed to secure a spot on the ballot.

The Harvard Alumni Association interviews and puts forward candidates to a vote, and those who want to get on the ballot without the association's blessing -- as the candidates supported by Zuckerberg and Ackman attempted -- face long odds.

In 2016, Harvard raised the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot when not endorsed by the association from 200 to 1% of those who were entitled to vote in the previous election.

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Greg Roumeliotis)

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