Ken Chenault ’73, H’96 in Washington Post: America’s Strength is Learning through History—Not Rewriting It

By Bowdoin News

On the heels of actions taken by Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to defund diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs and restrict how educators can discuss issues of race and gender at the state’s public colleges and universities, Ken Chenault ’73, H’96 has cowritten a strong rebuke in the Washington Post, saying the legislation is one of many recent attacks on American values.

Ken Chenault
Ken Chenault '73, H'96 speaking after having received The Bowdoin Prize in New York City in November 2022.

Chenault and Ken Frazier write that “government should not prescribe or proscribe the free expression and exchange of ideas within our institutions of higher education, or anywhere else.” 

Chenault, former chairman and CEO of American Express and current chairman and managing director of the venture capital firm General Catalyst, and Frazier, former president, CEO, and executive chairman of Merck, now chairman of health assurance initiatives at General Catalyst, write with firsthand knowledge of how diversity initiatives help organizations build and benefit from teams with wide ranges of experiences and perspectives.

“Future business leaders must become more proficient, not less, at fostering community and belonging within their organizations, exactly the opposite of what this legislation promotes,” they write. “More fundamentally, any attempts to limit our freedoms to think and speak our minds contradict the values that bind us together.” 

“When our laws suppress free speech or erase uncomfortable parts of our history, they are testing our core principles. They are also denying our young people crucial training in critical thinking — in learning how to think, not what to think; how to follow the data to the truth, however inconvenient.”

Read the full opinion piece in The Washington Post.

Chenault and Frazier previously led an effort to oppose legislation limiting voting access in America, whereby more than seventy Black business leaders called on US companies to oppose efforts underway in many states to pass legislation that would suppress the Black American vote.

Earlier this spring, Chenault and his wife, Kathryn, established the Herman S. Dreer Leadership Fellowship at Bowdoin, named in honor of Herman S. Dreer, Class of 1910, who was the second Black man to graduate from Bowdoin, eighty-four years after John Brown Russwurm, Class of 1826. Dreer’s life story—and, in particular, his relationship with the College—is revealed in The Blackman at Bowdoin, the history honors thesis Chenault wrote in 1973.

Last fall, Chenault was awarded The Bowdoin Prize, the highest honor the College bestows upon its members.