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Free Speech Advocate Running Outsider Campaign for Harvard Board of Overseers Will Not See Name on Ballot

Harvey A. Silverglate, a 1967 graduate of Harvard Law School, is running for the Board of Overseers as an outsider candidate.
Harvey A. Silverglate, a 1967 graduate of Harvard Law School, is running for the Board of Overseers as an outsider candidate. By Courtesy of Elsa Dorfman
By Miles J. Herszenhorn and Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvey A. Silverglate, a 1967 Harvard Law School graduate who is staging an outsider campaign for election to the Harvard Board of Overseers, said he will probably not meet the signature threshold to see his name on the ballot, but pledged to continue his bid with a write-in campaign.

Silverglate is in the final days of a petition campaign to appear on this year’s ballot for the Board of Overseers, the University’s second-highest governing board. Silverglate, who is running on a platform of downsizing Harvard’s administration and upholding free speech, has 330 of 3,000 signatures needed to appear on the ballot as of Tuesday.

All Harvard alumni — except current Harvard faculty, administrators, or members of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body — are eligible to vote to elect overseers to the 30-member body.

The Harvard Alumni Association nominating committee tapped eight candidates for the ballot this year, but candidates can also join through a petition campaign if they receive signatures from 1 percent of the number of eligible voters in last year’s election by Feb. 1. Voting in the 2023 Board of Overseers election is set to open on March 31.

This is not the first time Silverglate has run for the Board of Overseers. He managed to gather enough petition signatures to appear on the ballot in 2009, but his campaign was ultimately unsuccessful.

With only a sixth of the requisite signatures, Silverglate cast blame on recent changes to the Board of Overseers electoral system for the petition campaign he expects will fall short.

“The Board of Overseers made it harder in recent years for people to get in by petition and nomination,” Silverglate said. “By making it so difficult, you tend to get people who agree on everything and who don’t understand that the modern university, especially Harvard — certainly, including Harvard — has gone off on a wrong direction.”

University spokesperson Christopher M. Hennessy declined to comment.

Since Silverglate ran in 2009, the Board of Overseers has passed several amendments to its electoral processes.

The board increased the threshold to appear on the election ballot as a petition candidate in 2016, raising the requirement from just over 200 signatures to 1 percent of the number of eligible voters in the previous election.

The change represented the first major hike of the signature threshold in a century, with the first election after the 2016 reform mandating roughly 2,650 signatures to get on the ballot — more than a tenfold increase from the previous year.

Harvard announced in 2020 that it would allow only six successful petition candidates to sit on the Board of Overseers at any given time. The other 24 members must be elected from a list of candidates selected by the HAA nominating committee.

The 2020 changes were unveiled one month after three petition candidates backed by Harvard Forward won election to the board. Harvard Forward was founded in 2019 with the goal of increasing recent alumni representation and support for fossil fuel divestment among overseers.

Nathán Goldberg Crenier ’18, who co-founded Harvard Forward, said the electoral reforms show that “Harvard is joining a growing anti-democratic strain of politics.”

“They don’t like student activism, they don’t like faculty activism, they then have this avenue for alumni to express their voice, and when it’s used they say, ‘No, not like that,’” Crenier said.

Crenier said the reforms to the Board of Overseers after victories by Harvard Forward-backed candidates showed that Harvard’s “reaction to a democratic election that they did not like was to move away from democracy.”

“The administrators in University Hall right are not the heartbeat of Harvard,” Crenier added. “So the fact that the bureaucrats essentially are saying, ‘Ok, well, we disagree with what students, faculty, and alumni are saying, so we get the final call’ is, I think, a little short-sighted.”

Silverglate, who was not endorsed by Harvard Forward, said he is calling on Harvard to fire 95 percent of its administrators and reduce tuition by 40 percent.

“Even if I don’t get enough signatures to get on the ballot, and even if I don’t get enough write-ins, I think I did send a message — and I’m hoping that justifies the amount of time and energy,” Silverglate said.

“But Harvard has both a leadership position and it’s also a symbol,” he added. “If we can straighten Harvard out, the rest of the country will follow.”

Correction: January 31, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Harvey A. Silverglate had collected roughly 500 signatures in in his attempt to appear on this year's ballot for the Board of Overseers. In fact, Silverglate had only 330 signatures as of Tuesday.

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33.

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