Seen, But Not Heard

By Zachary Block '99 / January / February 2003
June 22nd, 2007
Harvey Pitt hadn’t been doing a lot of public speaking in the weeks before he came to campus November 18. He’d resigned as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission on November 5, felled by criticism of cozy connections to the businesses he was charged with regulating, as well as his controversial choice of former CIA director William Webster to head the accounting oversight board that had been created in the wake of the En-ron and WorldCom meltdowns. Two weeks later, as Pitt awaited news of his replacement, he delivered the Noah Krieger ’93 Memorial Lecture. His visit, he said, was a tribute to Krieger’s commitment to public service, as well as to Krieger’s father, Sandy, Pitt’s former law partner. Pitt appears to be the first Republican to deliver the Krieger lecture—previous speakers include Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and then-congressman, now senator, Charles Schumer.

Pitt’s prepared remarks were notable for what he avoided: all but the most oblique reference to the turmoil that marked his term as SEC chief. Instead, he used his speech to encourage students to dedicate themselves to public service and work for “the common good.” Pitt said this was the approach he took in his years as a securities lawyer in private practice. “I counseled clients to work toward the common good,” he said, “encouraging them not just to meet legal standards, but exceed them.”

Despite Pitt’s emphasis on public service, talk of his tenure at the SEC and the accounting scandals of the past year dominated the brief question-and-answer period following his speech. “[Webster] was well qualified and is a remarkable public servant,” Pitt responded to one student’s question. “And we were very, very lucky to be able to get him to be willing to serve.”

Asked if the corporate scandals of the past year showed that the SEC had failed to do its job, Pitt warned against searching for scapegoats. “I don’t think it is productive to try and point the finger and say, ‘Well if the SEC had really been doing its job, this wouldn’t have happened,’ ” Pitt said. “Where people are dedicated to committing frauds, no matter how diligent the SEC is, it’s not going to be able to keep up with very clever people who are intent on defrauding their fellow citizens.”

As for his future plans or any advice he would pass on to his successor, Pitt remained silent. “Former SEC chairmen should be seen and not heard,” Pitt joked to reporters after his speech.

What do you think?
See what other readers are saying about this article and add your voice. 
Related Issue
January / February 2003