Sam Lessin for Harvard Overseers 2024
The Nomination Period for the Harvard Overseers Ballot has closed. We collected 2901 nominations - the most in the history of Harvard Overseers write-in campaigns, but a few short of the '1%' required. That said, we are not done here. I am working to address voter voter disenfranchisement, without which we would have easily cleared this very high bar.

Stay tuned for next steps coming on helping solidify the community of folks who want to help Harvard return to its academic true north, fix governance, and improve campus speech culture

Running for the Harvard Board of Overseers: Addressing Leadership Failures and Seeking Support from Like-Minded Alumni

Fellow Harvard Alums,

In light of the evolving situation on Harvard's campus and the administration's abysmal response, I want to join the Harvard Board of Overseers to help Harvard move forward.

I know many alums think that Harvard is a lost cause. But deep down -- despite living on the West Coast and working in tech —- I actually believe in the power of institutions, including the power and importance of Harvard. I want to help the University find a path back.

I would love your support getting on the ballot (and then getting elected this spring). For now, if you are willing to nominate me, I would appreciate it if you would:

Add your contact & class information here.

I can send you all the relevant details about how to formally nominate me, and help get this done.

Below is a bit more on me, my beliefs, and the process for those interested. And here are some public endorsements. Thank you for your engagement and support. We have a real shot at making a difference here.

Sam Lessin
Class of 2005

Responsive image

Conversations & Endorsements

I have been endorsed by lots of folks including Steve Pinker who has been excellent identifying a path forward for the university ("a forum not a protagonist!")... and my campaign has been covered since December in the Crimson , CNN , the Boston Herald. Here is a long list of folks who have publicly endorsed me.

Since starting this campaign I have been doing a series of short conversations with different alums from different schools and eras on the issues facing Harvard. Full List of Video Conversations

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan

Federal Judge Harry Hartz (also running)

Harvard FAIR and Free Speech Alum Event

Harvard Chabad Live Event

Michelle Tandler (HBS '15)

Zander Rafael ('07)

Evan Schwartz ('05)

Michael Broukheim ('07)

Harvey Silverglate (HLS '67), Co-Founder of FIRE

Adrian Ashkenazy ('96), Co-Founder of HJAA

Michelle Tandler (HBS '15)

William (Bill) Raduchel A.M 1966 & PHD 1972

Michael Bruckheim ('07), Founder of FitFabFun

Laura Wharton ('83), Jerusalem City Council

Responsive image Learn more about my beliefs.

About Me

I am a member of the class of 2005. I lived in Wig-D, then Mather, then Kirkland. I didn’t do grad school. I graduated magna cum laude in Social Studies and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Professionally, I work in the technology industry. I started my career after school at Bain and Company. I have founded two companies. I served as VP of Product at Facebook, reporting to the CEO through the IPO. In 2014 I co-founded a Venture Capital firm called Slow Ventures that has returned very significant capital. I have seeded some very well known companies including Venmo, Solana, Birchbox, Teamshares, Openphone, and many many more.

I grew up in Englewood NJ, lived in New York for years after college, and now live just south of San Francisco with my three sons and wife Jessica Lessin (also Harvard 2005).

I write a lot on the internet. You can learn more about me on my personal website, and see a lot of my viewpoints on Twitter (X). If you want to connect please drop me a line via Call List.

The Process

At a high level, here is what the process looks like going forward and what I am working on:

1. Collecting 3,300 write-in nominations from Harvard alums for the 2024 Spring Overseers ballot by January 31st, 2024.

2. Running a campaign to get elected to the Overseer Board.

3. Working with the University to fix the mistakes of this fall and refocus on the academic mission of the University.

4. Helping other alums with similar beliefs find a path to helping the University forward through future Overseers elections and identifying other points of leverage at the university.

Questions I have Been Asked (FAQ)

Does the Board of Overseers have any real power?
Initially my understanding was that the answer was 'no'. But the more I have dug in, the reality is that the Board actually has quite a bit of power under the still-in-effect 1650 charter which I would as an Overseer use.

The Board of Overseers has the explicit authority to consent to the appointment of the President and Fellows. It also has to agree on the subsidiary governance documents. These in turn can require further approvals. These are not minor powers.

Further, as one Alum noted to me, “the real power is an unlimited power to not only ask questions but to get answers. Think U.S. House Oversight Committee. There is a formal visitation process which has enormous influence. The power of one member really stems from this: the ability to ask questions.”

So yes, while the Board of Overseers hasn't exerted much influence in recent years, I would intend to use the real powers it does have to help the university forward

Are you qualified to be on the Board of Overseers?
The current list of folks on the board is here. Most of them are older, former professors and non-profit leaders. There are a few younger folks and people from the private sector. As someone from California and the tech world, I represent a fresh perspective (and a valuable one give the massive rise of applied math, computer science, and economics at the university)

I know my way around organizations big and small. I have a passion for education and learning, loved Harvard, and think it is an important institution. Harvard deserves great leadership and plays a vital role in the United States and in exporting American education and values globally.

What would you do as a member of the Board of Overseers?
My first order of business would be to learn more about the Board's function and actual points of leverage. I believe there are serious leadership issues at Harvard currently, and I would seek to use a position on the Board of Overseers to advocate for stronger and better leadership starting with the President's office.

Any specifics you would focus on immediately?
First, student safety. The idea that the University would let itself become an unsafe place for any student is appalling. The weak administration response to 10/7 illustrates that changes need to be made in how the university approaches leadership in keeping students physically safe. There have been issues at many universities, not just Harvard. But Harvard’s response was one of the weakest and worst.

Second, I would look at speech culture on campus. The idea that Harvard ranks dead last by some measures in free speech on campus is deeply saddening. What is worse is the obvious deep inconsistency of which voices and causes are given wide berth by the administration in the name of free speech and which other causes are shut down. You can’t have it both ways. I would accept a decision to truly fully embrace free speech, or a culture where the administration sets standards. But you can’t pick and choose your response based on personal beliefs.

How can I help?
I would love help with this. For instance, who else should I talk to? What should I be thinking about? How do we activate people to actually vote for the Board of Overseers? I would also note that every year the Board of Overseers elects five people, so if anyone wants to go on this journey with me, please reach out.

How do you get on the Board of Overseers?
Normally the Harvard Alumni Association puts forward a slate and then all the alums vote in the spring. The deadline for advocating to be on that slate is long past for 2024. But if you get 1% of eligible voting alums to support your candidacy (which I have confirmed is 3,238 people) then you can be a write-in candidate. That is the path I am pursuing.

Why are you running a write-in campaign vs. just seeking HAA endorsement in 2024?
Given that the Overseer election process is tightly controlled by HAA, a lot of folks have asked why I don’t just go through the official HAA channels. Two reasons (1) it is too slow. The normal HAA process requires getting HAA endorsement in the spring of 2024 for the ballot in 2025 (18+ months from now). The university needs engagement faster than that, and doing a write-in campaign shortens the timeline by a year. (2) The HAA is very tightly controlled by a small number of alums who are highly engaged in HAA. The candidates they nominate come generally from a small band of the alums.

only about 10% of Harvard alums even vote in the Overseer election. The reality is that HAA these days doesn’t really represent alums broadly anymore vs. a small sliver of the overall population (this incidentally is how you end up in the situation where HAA leadership "unanimously" supported president Gay recently, when it was pretty obvious that (a) harvard alums don’t feel that way and (b) HAA didn’t ask for any opinions of alums vs. just making their own statement).

How do you feel about President Gay stepping down? I think it was the right decision for Gay to step down. It became clear that she was not longer capable of leading Harvard forward. Here is what I would look for in the next president

Campaign for Overseer Nomination
How To Nominate Formally
My Beliefs
Get The Word Out