Harvard cuts ties with alumni club in Singapore

In a rare move, Harvard University and its alumni association have severed ties with the Singapore alumni club, citing leadership problems.

In an e-mail to Singapore-based graduates last week, executive director of Harvard Alumni Association Philip Lovejoy said it no longer recognised the Harvard Club of Singapore.

This means the club, which has more than 1,500 members and was registered as a society in 1969, can no longer say it is a Harvard club. It does not get any funding from Harvard.

However, this does not affect the Harvard Business School Club of Singapore, a separate outfit of the business school alumni.

Mr Lovejoy said in the e-mail that there were "ongoing issues with the leadership of Harvard Club of Singapore that we have been unable to resolve", and the club "no longer promotes a mutually beneficial relationship between the university and Singapore-area alumni".

He added that the alumni association will work with Singapore graduates of the university to develop new leadership for a future alumni club here.

When contacted, the association declined to comment.

The Straits Times understands that some members are unhappy with how the club is run by Irene Lee, who has been president since 2011.

Some said Dr Lee, who runs a social enterprise and has a doctorate from Harvard, made decisions without consulting committee members.

She also allegedly ignored an online petition started three months ago by Singapore-based Harvard alumnus Stephen Jacob, which had asked that she hold an extraordinary general meeting by May 1.

In the petition signed by 37 people, Mr Jacob wrote that the Singapore club "has not been operating according to its bylaws" and did not conduct its annual general meeting last year properly. Mr Jacob, who works in a securities firm here, signed off as the treasurer of the local club.

According to the Constitution and bylaws of the Harvard club here, alumni have to pay an annual fee before they are considered members. But this was not enforced and non-paying alumni could attend events too, said members.

Some executive committee members also said they had quit as they were upset with Dr Lee.

Officials from Harvard Alumni Association came to Singapore last year to discuss how the club could be improved.

A 34-year-old Singaporean who was at the meeting said Dr Lee seemed defensive.

"Irene had a thick ring file of newspaper articles and photos of events she had organised. She said her contributions shouldn't be diminished," said the member, who declined to be named.

In a statement on Friday, Dr Lee said three people "are trying to unseat the executive committee", which was elected on Nov 24 in accordance with club bylaws.

"The three are not members of the Harvard Club of Singapore and their actions are unconstitutional. We are ready to defend the integrity of the Harvard Club of Singapore and its members," she said.

She did not name the trio or respond to the allegations against her. Nor did she say how the club would go on now that it is no longer recognised.

Some alumni are said to be planning to form a new club with support from the university.



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