Harvard Not For Sale
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An Open Letter to Save Harvard Ethics

As Harvard embarks on the important decision on whom to appoint as the President of Harvard University, the guardian of our values, we the students of Harvard would like to place a few issues for your consideration.

We believe that the Chair of the President of Harvard must be occupied by a person who does not have the stain of conflict of interest or one who can potentially compromise his or her ethics for commercial gain. Such a person must not only be morally upright but also like the proverbial Casear’s wife, be seen to be above suspicion.

We understand that Dean Nohria is one of the front runners for this prestigious post and we would like to place a few facts for your consideration that in our opinion impacthis ability to lead our institution.

Fund raising ability is no doubt an important criteria in judging a candidate for the post of President, but this cannot be at the expense of risk to the Brand of Harvard that has been built up over a century.   Consider the following as a warning sign.

Dean Nohria’s proximity to a large global corporate from India [1], and his membership on their board in lieu of the large contribution made to HBS [2] has exposed him and the University to charges of conflict of interest [3] Indeed, the role of Dean Nohria in the corporate board room coup [4] at Tata and whether he failed to discharge his fiduciary duty as a Board member, and whether he subjugated such interests to the wishes of the corporation, is still a talk amongst academia and students. 

Professor of Ethics Nohria has had his name figure in a scathing report of India’s regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, in a M&A transaction involving Abbott and a health care company in India.  The regulator imposed monetary penalties on the Indian businessman for violating India’s insider trading regulations.  What is disturbing is that Dean Nohria was the principal consultant to the Indian businessman and has been named in the report as the “consultant who was privy to all the information” in the deal. The report is publicly available at https://www.sebi.gov.in/sebi_data/attachdocs/1475494799681.pdf [5]

A plain reading of the surrounding facts reveals a pattern of “disturbing coincidences”.  First, Dean Nohria continues to serve and advise Mr. Piramal, the Indian businessman named in the insider trading [6] report mentioned before.  Surprisingly, Mr. Piramal in turn serves on Harvard Business School’s Board of Dean’s Advisors.

If one considers that Dean Nohria was also allegedly instrumental in roping in his Brother-on-law Mr. Amit Chandra and Mr. Piramal onto the Board of Tata, a month ahead of the tumultuous removal of the company’s chairman, then the chain of self-serving relationships become more evident. 

The use of close associates and family members in a board room environment risks conflicting interests that hurt corporate governance. [7] We at Harvard are taught to ring-fence and protect against both actual and perceived conflicts of interest to protect the highest standards of corporate governance.  It is a shame that Dean Nohria, fails to practice what he preaches.

As students, in the light of such information, we also begin to question, whether the case studies [8], anecdotal insights and classroom conversations of such Professors are also tainted by such conflicts. While the jury is out, our research shows a few case HBS studies including one that celebrates India’s US$3000 car, the Tata Nano, by calling it a runaway success, despite other academic pundits called it a ‘positioning disaster’ amongst others. This HBS case was written mere months after Tata donated $50 million to HBS through Dean Noria

We run the risk of a generation of Harvard’s elite students questioning whether the case-studies, the very foundation of Harvard’s education system is compromised. While the clout of global corporates in academia and other bodies is whispered in the corridors, never before has such blatant conflicts come to light.  Such taints on a candidate [9] who could be the next President of Harvard University, our Nations’ leading academic light is disconcerting.    

It is the duty of us as students, and others including academics, global leaders, and personalities of eminence who hold the ideals of Harvard near to them, that we never allow anything that taints or erodes the credibility of our institution.   As members of the Selection committee, we beseech you to consider all the ramifications of your decision.   

The very core of what gives Harvard value - trust in honest and ethical academic excellence - is at stake. The ability to funds alone is not worth compromising what academia is all about.

We appeal to you and request you to lend your weight and support the cause.  Please join us by endorsing our petition that we plan to send to change.org.

Please talk to your friends and spread the word.  

We trust you will make the right choice in the interests of all involved.

Please, Harvard cannot be for sale!

Should you need any clarifications from us, we look forward to sharing our views. 

Thank you for your time and looking forward to your support.


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