Harvard Business School (HBS) today (Sept. 29) announced that it renaming a building on its campus that has long honored a pro-slavery politician who consistently supported measures that suppressed the votes of Black Americans in Virginia. Instead, Harvard will rename the building to honor the first Black American professor to gain tenure at HBS. One of only four Blacks to ever earn tenure at HBS in 1985, James Cash retired in 2003 from the school after spending 27 years at Harvard.
One of dozen original buildings on the HBS campus when it was dedicated in 1928, the building that will be renamed Cash House had long been dedicated to Carter Glass, a pro-slavery racist and one of the strongest advocates of segregation who devoted much of his political career to the perpetuation of Jim Crow laws in the South. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate for Virginia, Glass supported measures in his home state of Virginia that suppressed the right to vote. He favored a poll tax that required a bulk payment after a voter missed elections a literacy test that voters has to pass before voting with performance graded by the registrar. Once asked if these measures were discriminatory, Glass exclaimed, “Discrimination! Why that is exactly what we propose. To remove every negro voter who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the numerical strength of the white electorate.”
By renaming the building for Cash, the school is doing what Cash himself did as a faculty member at Harvard Business School during his more than a quarter of a century at the school: He broke barriers for Black people. “When one thinks of individuals who have advanced racial equity in the US, many names come to mind,” said HBS Dean Nitin Nohria in a statement. “Yet there are remarkable individuals who, in ways less visible and against all odds, not only realize tremendous personal achievements but also actively work to lift others. Jim Cash is someone who has propelled generations of Black students, faculty, and staff, as well as scores of business leaders, to successful and meaningful lives and careers.”
RENAMING THE BUILDING COMES AT A TIME OF RACIAL RECKONING FOR HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL
The decision to name the building after Cash occurs after something of a racial reckoning on the business school campus. In early June, Dean Nohria publicly apologized for failing to mount a more successful fight against racism and for not serving the school’s black community members better. The rare apology was issued in a statement on June 7 as protests swept through the U.S. and foreign capitals since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd died on Memorial Day after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes. The statement, entitled “Standing And ActingTogether For Racial Justice,” specifically mentioned the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and quoted Martin Luther King Jr.
But Norhia then faced scathing criticism from a former Black faculty member and some alums for the school’s failure to recruit and enroll more black students, hire and promote more black faculty members, and add more Black protagonists to its case studies. Only a week ago, Norhia released an action plan for racial equality but shied away from setting any concrete targets that could be used to measure progress on putting more Black protagonists in case studies, hiring and promoting more underrepresented minorities as faculty, or increasing the percentage of Black students in its MBA program.
The newly named Cash House, completed in 1926, originally served as a faculty residence. Seven of the original buildings on campus were named for former secretaries of the United States Treasury at the suggestion of the school’s founding benefactor, George F. Baker. Carter Glass served as Treasury Secretary from 1918-1920, returning to the Senate for another 26 years until his death in 1946. In its announcement, HBS noted that “his achievements in business include helping establish the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and passing the Federal Reserve Act. Yet these accomplishments are overshadowed by his active promulgation of segregationist policies in his home state, including poll taxes and literacy requirements that precluded many thousands of Black citizens from voting.”
A towering and well-liked intellectual, Cash has been a trailblazer his entire life. Born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, he was the first African American to accept a basketball scholarship in the Southwest Conference after signing on at Texas Christian University (TCU) in 1965. At six-foot-six, he dominated on the court and also in the classroom, where he majored in mathematics, becoming an Academic All-American in his last two years at TCU. As a Black student-athlete in the south, he frequently encountered racism, even requiring a police escort when the team visited the University of Arkansas.
Cash joined the faculty of Harvard Business School in 1976 after receiving his MS and Ph.D. degrees in computer science from Purdue University. With Professors Warren McFarlan and William Bruns, Cash pioneered the field of information technology at HBS. His scholarly work in the field made him a sought-after expert on the strategic use of IT. In the classroom, Cash’s height and charisma made him a larger-than-life presence—and powerful role model—for MBA students and Executive Education participants alike, where he taught in the Program for Management Development, the Program for Global Leadership, and the Advanced Management Program. He also became a leader in the administration, serving as Chairman of the MBA Program from 1992 to 1995, Chair of Baker Library, and Senior Associate Dean and Chairman of Harvard Business Publishing.
CASH WAS ALSO A BOARD MEMBER AT MICROSOFT, WALMART AND GENERAL ELECTRIC
When Cash arrived at HBS at a young academic in 1976, there were 27 Black MBA students in the graduating class. When he left the school in 2003, there were 56 Black MBA graduates, exactly the same number as in 1995 when Cash completed his leadership role over the MBA program. In the newest MBA class at HBS, only 52 students of the 732 MBA students are African American. If Cash had reservations about the progress Harvard made toward racial equality while he was at HBS, he voiced them quietly, refusing to publicly rock the boat. Yet Cash was instrumental in lobbying for and helping to launch the school’s Summer Venture in Management Program (SVMP). Since its founding nearly four decades ago, the program has engaged thousands of graduating and rising college seniors, including many Black and underrepresented minority students, interested in exploring business as a career. Many of the program’s participants have gone on to earn MBA degrees, including at HBS.
Beyond the School, his writing—in books, journals, and Harvard Business Review—caught the attention of CEOs of several major firms. Over time, his expertise, integrity, and judgment earned him seats on the boards of Microsoft Corporation, Walmart, General Electric, Sprint, State Street Corporation, and The Chubb Ltd., among others.
“True to his humble nature, Jim will not broadcast the many ways he makes a difference to individuals and institutions,” noted Angela Crispi, HBS’s Executive Dean for Administration in a statement. “But I’ve seen firsthand how he has been the first to help recruit and then reach out to colleagues at the School as they orient themselves to HBS and to Boston. And I’ve seen his eyes light up when he talks about projects like the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. More than anyone else I know, Jim genuinely believes in helping others realize their full potential.”
“It is impossible to overstate the impact that Jim has had on students, faculty, and business leaders over the years,” said Linda Hill, Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration. “Not only have I witnessed it first-hand, I’ve personally benefited immeasurably from Jim’s generosity and wisdom, and most of all, his friendship. For the Black community, he is an inspiration—a role model on what it means to be world-class in all you do.”