Campus & Community

HAA president Byrnes to step down, passes baton to Walter Morris

4 min read

This spring, while addressing fellow alumni, Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) President Jonathan L.S. Byrnes D.B.A. ’80 remarked, “The HAA was founded in 1840, and our first president was John Quincy Adams. Since that time, a select group of alumni has stepped up and provided leadership to benefit their fellow alumni and the University. All of us are part of this timeless and crucial process.”

Byrnes, who will step down in June, offered this observation at the conclusion of his talk, which outlined the terrific growth of several HAA initiatives over the past year. His successor, Walter H. Morris Jr. ’73, M.B.A. ’75, is poised to build on these accomplishments. Together, they are advancing the HAA’s ambitious goal for its University-wide alumni membership — “to make your Harvard experience last a lifetime.”

Morris noted that, through the HAA, he has made new friends whom he would never have otherwise met. “In my moments of reflection, I find it easy to remain involved,” he said. “Friendships that began here have become friendships outside of Cambridge, even outside the country. These people have become my circle of close friends. They have provided personal and professional guidance. It’s difficult to imagine not remaining close to them.”

Morris’ involvement with the HAA dates back nearly 15 years. A principal of Ernst & Young, he first joined the Harvard Club of New York, and then the Harvard Club of Washington, D.C., while also participating in events sponsored by the Harvard Black Alumni Society — one of the HAA’s first shared interest groups (SIGs). He described the clubs as “a community of alums,” equating them to an earlier experience in Paris. While living abroad, he and his wife Cynthia bonded with fellow Harvard expatriates and joined them for what would soon become regular Paris dinners — “what the HAA does in a more formal way.”

For Byrnes, a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and president of Jonathan Byrnes and Co., a business consulting firm, his term has been marked by a commitment to “Creating a New Era.” His efforts, he explained, have been guided by an extensive reassessment of the HAA’s strategic plan. “Last year, I worked with a group of HAA past presidents under the leadership of Paul Finnegan [’75, M.B.A. ’82] to revisit the previous plan, and to figure out how to move it forward. We looked carefully at the HAA’s activities, spoke to a larger number of people, and gauged the evolving needs of the Harvard alumni community. It became clear to us that there was an important opportunity to supplement our traditional, broad but effective programs with a much more sharply focused set aimed at smaller groups of alumni. This has been a real team effort, combining committed alumni and dedicated staff. With Walter at the helm, I’m looking forward to another exciting year.”

The HAA’s expanded alumni outreach and marketing reflect the University’s wish to engage all alumni in the life of the Harvard community. As Byrnes pointed out, while HAA programming has become more targeted in recent months, the range of options remains broad. Examples include a major redesign of the Post.Harvard alumni Web site, the recent Global Series conference in Shanghai, the creation of nine new SIGs, and a robust Harvard Club network. Equally important, the HAA has been working on programs and activities to bring Harvard’s history and shared alumni experience more directly to students on campus.

Morris, who is in his 35th reunion year, realizes that despite considerable progress, the HAA continues to face challenges, including lingering misconceptions that it is open only to graduates of the College and is primarily a fundraising organization. To the contrary, he highlighted the HAA’s “behind-the-scenes heavy lifting for many activities that alumni across the University enjoy,” including Commencement and class reunions; the Global Series; Web-based learning opportunities such as “Justice Online” with Michael J. Sandel, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government; the Alumni College and travel-study programs; and a raft of Harvard Club and SIG events. “Our role is to promote interaction between Harvard and alumni around the world,” Morris said. “We’re always looking for new engagement opportunities, whether that involves bringing alumni back to Cambridge or supporting Harvard events nationally and internationally. We want alumni to feel involved.”

As for his pending presidency, Morris termed it “a privilege” to continue working with Byrnes, whom he has known for 10 years, and the entire HAA team. “Jonathan has done a yeoman’s job, bringing an incredible commitment of time and excitement to the HAA, and making us more efficient. He set a remarkable course and really stepped up the pace.”