1636 Forum

A Community of Harvard Alums and Students Focused On Academic Excellence, Academic Freedom, Good Governance

For the 2024 Harvard Board of Overseers election, we recommend voting for Tim Ritchie, Theodore Chuang, and Scott Mead (in ballot order). You can vote now until May 14th. Learn more about each candidate, our endorsement process, and voting instructions

Stay up to date on what is happening at Harvard with a weekly digest. Hear from leaders and organizations working to improve Harvard's core academic focus, governance, and campus culture. Join live gatherings of passionate alums around the country, and find high-impact (and low effort) ways to help.

Beliefs and Mission

There is a sizable and caring but largely silent majority that has looked on with dismay at the erosion of Harvard’s mission, governance, and campus culture over the last several years. For many, the fall of 2023 made several passive concerns very tangible and very practical - and put a fine point on how far the University has drifted from its core academic mission and historical standing.

Many (most?) believe that Harvard’s existing structures are too entrenched to change, that the governance is too broken to fix, and that the answer is simply to walk away from the University and spend effort elsewhere. We disagree. We are optimists and we believe that with the right community building and application of effort we can help Harvard back, and make it even stronger for the next century.

Harvard Needs To...

  • 1. Reassert academic excellence as the University's singular mission
  • 2. Fix its core governance issues
  • 3. Re-establish a true academic free speech culture on campus
  • 4. Guarantee student safety on campus
  • 5. Evolve student and faculty selection criteria


We will not accomplish all of this overnight, but the reality is that the issues facing Harvard (and higher education more broadly) are acute enough that we cannot accept tectonic timelines for change. We need to operate on a timescale of months, not years or decades. With that in mind here is the plan...

1. Build a Broad Community of Supportive Alums Across All Schools of Harvard
One of the great parts of Harvard University is that it is an extremely diverse community. Harvard alums are everywhere. They are in every country, every industry, and every community. This diversity is great, but it can make it difficult when trying to create changes that require scale and focus. We know that a broad swath of alumni agree with the simple principles we support, and we hope that in addition to their local Harvard ‘communities’ in different cities, industries, and cultural communities, the 1636 forum can be a place of broad alignment and collaboration for change.

2. Coordinate Knowledge Sharing and Action Across the Community
Harvard alumni tend to be very busy and tend to be very involved in many different issues. A very small percentage care about the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA), read high gloss magazines, or are going to dedicate hours every week to helping the University. Few folks tend to have the time or effort to focus on arcane processes and rules that govern the university. Through the 1636 Forum we will provide simple access to trusted sources on what is happening on campus, and a platform for coordinating action to help the University.

3. Create Accountability and Actionable Feedback
This isn’t the type of group that is going to hold marches in Harvard Yard or sit-in at University Hall… But the reality is that administrators and governors, like anyone else, respond to feedback and incentives. This group will seek to make sure that the decisions and policies that individual leaders and groups are making on campus are widely known. In shining a light on what leaders are doing in a supportive and clear way and offering feedback from alumni who want to positively contribute to Harvard’s success, we are confident we can help people on campus make better decisions.

4. Support Aligned Administrative, Governance, and Faculty Voices
For all of the challenges on campus, there are also many many wonderful professors and administrators trying to help Harvard move in the right direction. Some feel free and are confident to speak publicly, others do not. Some are well funded, some are very much not. We will support aligned administrative, governance, and faculty voices in the hard work ahead.

5. Remain Apolitical and Narrowly Focused
One critical factor in having impact here is staying politically neutral and very narrowly focused on academic excellence, governance, and the key aspects of campus culture that directly flow from those key inputs. This isn’t about ‘left’ vs. ‘right’, and we want to stay as far away from those that want to politicize these issues as possible. The goal is to help Harvard, and by extension the institution of classically liberal higher education, reestablish and maintain its position as a trusted institution pursuing truth outside of the political sphere.

How we got here in the first place...

As with most systemic failures, Harvard’s issues are not the result of any one single problem or decision. At a high level, what basically happened in the last 10-15 years was:

(a) Scope Creep As many institutions in the US have fallen / come under extreme pressure, well-meaning folks looked to the remaining strong and trusted institutions to ‘carry more water’ and expand their scope beyond their historical mission. This is how Harvard as a University found itself moving away from a focus on ‘academic excellence’ and taking on increased scope and responsibility for things like a specific version of ‘diversity’ and ‘equity’ on par with – rather than in service of – the core academic mission.

(b) Governance Breakdown The problem with this ‘increased scope’ isn’t just that it complicates the mission and management. It also practically puts far more pressure on Harvard’s governance structures than they are able to handle. For a long time, Harvard Corporation’ has been used essentially as an honorary ‘carrot’ for very, very large donors, and the Board of Overseers has been used by HAA as a tool to reward HAA boosters who are highly loyal to Harvard. This dynamic, and the ceremonial path to of some of these roles, makes it difficult for these Corporation and Overseers members to make hard decisions and put their reputations on the line. The growing ‘multiple-bottom-line’ scenario of trade-offs between different missions has stretched Harvard’s governance beyond its means and in particular, its will.

(c) When you confuse the mission, and your governance function isn’t strong you get on-campus cultural issues. With a clear mission of academic excellence, it is easy to chart how campus culture should work. It becomes obvious that you need full academic free speech and diversity of opinions in the classroom. It becomes obvious that outside the classroom, students need to be protected on private property from harassment that is designed to prevent them from participating in the academic environment. It also becomes clear that the academic mission takes precedence over students feeling ‘comfortable’ in class. It becomes obvious that diversity and inclusion are priorities in service of / and to be evaluated with the ultimate goal of academic excellence. But, when missions are confused and governors don’t govern, all of these otherwise simple points devolve.

(d) When you confuse the mission, and your governance function isn’t strong your community drifts in a direction contrary to the mission. Department leaders who choose who to interview for certain positions start making those choices on criteria other than academic excellence. Students and faculty alike are no longer set up for success as open-minded scholars looking to contribute to excellence. Again, no individual is to blame here – this is what happens when the mission is muddled and governance wavers.

Who We Are

This initiative has evolved out of sam lessin’s campaign for the Harvard Board of Overseers in December of 2023. In the context of this campaign, it became clear that many Harvard alums were not being heard by University leadership and that there was more work to do beyond simply one write-in campaign for the Overseers board. For now, the 1636 Forum is being run by the folks who worked on Sam's campaign, but we hope to dramatically expand in the coming weeks and months.

Partner Organizations

Harvard is full of wonderful different clubs and organizations of all shapes and sizes. Groups like the HJAA, Chabad, Harvard Alumni for Free Speech, FAIR Harvard Alumni+, and many more supported Sam's campaign for Overseer. Our hope with this new initiative is to build relationships with these organizations and many other aligned groups in the coming years as official partners. If you want to get in touch about this and become a partner organization, please reach out.

How to Get Involved

Please reach out if you want to help. There are many volunteer opportunities (and a handful of paid roles, especially for students) as we get this off the ground. What we are looking for includes:

  • Help us edit our weekly newsletter (paid student opportunity)
  • Help organize local in-person meetings, especially in major cities like NYC, BOS, TLV, SF, LA, CHI
  • Help with virtual programming putting together Zoom events & podcasts with relevant thinkers and leaders
  • Help us vet grant requests from organizations looking to make a difference on the ground at Harvard
  • Help us with research doing background research on Overseer candidates, administrators, professors, and more (paid student opportunity)
  • Other ideas? Please reach out if you have other ideas for how to help!