Is Harvard ungovernable? Is it an institution so big, so tribal, and dare I say so out of touch, that it can’t help but trip over itself? Claudine Gay’s short tenure as the University’s president left me thinking about how the members of The Harvard Corporation, as the school’s governing board is called, failed her, along with the faculty, the students, and the alumni. (To be transparent, I have never represented Harvard Corporation or Harvard College. But I have had students and faculty as clients.)

The Corporation members – Ted Wells, Penny Pritzker, Ken Chenault, Paul Finnegan, Alan Garber, Mariano Cuellar, Shirley Tilghman, Tracy Palandjian, Karen Mills, Timothy Barakett, Biddy Martin, and Diane Nelson – operate at the highest levels of industry, education, and law. Why are they on the board if not to use their experience and supposed wisdom to guide the University in a positive direction and to help Harvard’s leadership anticipate and manage challenges?

One would think they would have advised Gay to denounce terrorism in all its forms immediately after the October 7 attacks in Israel. Instead, she appeared timid and afraid of landing on the wrong side of student opinion. Because of her slow reaction, Harvard became a pawn in a sophisticated proxy fight between pro-Netanyahu Wall Street raiders and easily triggered, misinformed students that roiled the campus and drew national attention. Harvard’s self-induced crisis transformed the raiders into statesmen. And The Corporation, which oversees one of the largest endowments in the country, had no campaign to counter the mishigas.

What happened next was all too predictable: Harvard was too slow to respond to the divisions, damaging the country’s oldest brand in education and allowing third parties to hijack its reputation. The Corporation should have made sure Gay was well prepared to testify before what was clearly a hostile congressional committee. At least three Corporation members are lawyers from Ivy League law schools – Ken Chenault, Mariano Cuellar, and Ted Wells. Did they put Gay in front of a murder board? Judging from her performance in Washington, I would guess not.

There were signs before Gay became president that she would not be a unifying force on campus. When she was dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, she smeared a faculty member – unfairly, in my opinion – while The Corporation was defending the college’s treasury against a small group of students trying to get a monetary settlement for themselves. The case continues to drag on in federal court. As a result of her comments, some of the college’s most respected academics had their reputations bruised for supporting a colleague. That should have been a warning sign to The Corporation that Gay might not be the right pick.

But that is not the only place they failed. Ted Wells, one of the oldest members of The Corporation, earned millions investigating Tom Brady and The New England Patriots over deflated footballs. Due diligence is supposed to be his bread and butter. Shirley Tilghman is a former president of Princeton University. One would think at least these two would have understood the importance of vetting candidates for the school’s presidency, especially considering what happened to Marc Tessier Lavigne at Stanford last year. (Mr. Tessier Lavigne resigned as president of Stanford after his academic work was questioned.)

Perhaps The Corporation offered Gay more support than it appears, and Gay declined to accept their help. Maybe, like former Harvard President Larry Summers, she saw herself as the smartest person in the room. Summers survived as president for five years, until the faculty revolted against him and The Corporation tired of his verbal gaffs and aggressive style. Summer’s exit led former Harvard Board of Overseers member, Joe O’Donnell, to ask whether Harvard could be governed. It remains an open question.

Harvard surely spends millions on communications firms and outside lawyers as they work to protect their now tarnished brand. In my view, the school might be better served if the corporation members took a more active and transparent role, one that would help them better understand the organization that they oversee.