Posted on December 22, 2023

Harvard Won’t Fire President Because of ‘Racist’ Fears: Ackman Says

Alexander Fabino, Newsweek, December 22, 2023

Bill Ackman, founder and CEO of hedge fund management company Pershing Square Holdings, has publicly criticized the Harvard Corporation board for its unanimous support of Harvard President Claudine Gay, amid increasing calls for her to resign.

In a long-form tweet on Wednesday, Ackman clearly defined his disbelief in the board members’ backing of Gay, suggesting their fear of being labeled as racists is preventing them from taking action.

“The principal reason I believe is that they are afraid of being called racists,” Ackman said, adding that the Harvard Corporation board “concluded that if they fired President Gay, Harvard’s first black president, they would be cancelled and deemed racists.”


Ackman’s deep involvement with Harvard stems from his personal and professional ties to the university. Ackman, of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and an alumnus of Harvard College and Harvard Business School, has been a significant donor to the university, gifting millions to the Ivy League school in exchange for a say in administrative matters, according to a Wall Street Journal report.


However, Ackman’s relationship with Harvard has been strained in recent years. An incident occurred in 2017 in which Ackman donated funds to the school for recruiting top economists, including Stanford University‘s Raj Chetty. The donation, which was given in a company’s stock and came with caveats, led to a dispute when Harvard Management sold the shares before they had a chance to appreciate in value—a decision Ackman wasn’t consulted on and which he publicly criticized.

Ackman’s current frustration with the board’s inertia was evident in his Tweet on Wednesday, as he detailed his attempts to intervene and offer help.

“When I first watched the train wreck begin to unfold at Harvard, I approached two friends on the Corporation board and requested a meeting with President Gay and the other directors as I thought I could help,” Ackman said. His requests were repeatedly ignored, and he said that when he had the chance to speak with board chair Penny Pritzker, he found the conversation “incredibly disappointing” and unproductive.