Harvard President Apologizes for Comparing Donor Policy to Slavery

Lawrence Bacow
Bill Sikes/AP

Harvard University President Larry Bacow apologized recently after he faced a backlash for comparing a proposed university donor policy to slavery.

According to a report by the Crimson, Harvard University President Larry Bacow apologized last week after being accused of making a comment about the 13th Amendment and slavery.

The report claims that Bacow made a bizarre remark during which he compared slavery to a proposed policy that would limit the schools within Harvard to which alumni can donate.

Bacow used the 13th Amendment to explain that just as people cannot own slaves, Harvard’s 12 individual schools cannot “own” their alumni and limit their donations to other schools, according to the Globe. Such practices could be detrimental to fundraising efforts by schools with alumni who tend to find jobs in the non-profit or public sector and may subsequently be less wealthy.

Bacow issued an apology email in response to an uproar from students and faculty members.

“I regret that these comments caused offense. That certainly was not my intent,” Bacow wrote in the email. “I hoped to convey my belief that our collective job is to help our donors achieve their philanthropic objectives, which might include supporting activities in schools where they enjoyed no prior affiliation.”

Bacow said in the email that he plans to “learn” from his mistake. “People, appropriately, have high expectations for their leaders and their choice of language,” Bacow added. “In fact, you have high expectations for me as your president. I promise to learn from this experience. I do not want to disappoint you as I did some of you during our meeting.”

Natalie Kopp, an international development officer at Harvard’s School of Public Health, described Bacow’s analogy as “unfortunate.” She then tried to explain what Bacow had intended to say at the staff meeting.

“When we regularly use phrases like ‘my donor’ behind closed doors, we are falsely claiming ‘ownership’ and control over alumni and benefactors we care deeply about and who care about Harvard,” Kopp wrote. “Our role as fundraisers is to be a philanthropic guide and advisor, not to persuade alumni to give only to their affiliated schools.”


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