Donald Ogilvie YC ’68, ’78 changed Yale. That’s a rare accomplishment at any institution—let alone one already defined by hundreds of years of tradition.
Ralph Dawson YC ’71:
Don was a special human being because of the things he did and the impact that he had on other people. He exuded a quiet kind of confidence. That contributed to a positive type of approach that you could get something done.
Patrick Von Bargen ’78:
Don’s centeredness and clarity allowed him to be courageous in the sense that he just faced up to reality and told it like it was without bitterness or anger. He got angry from time to time, but justifiably so—and out of a desire to make things better.
On November 30, Yale SOM’s Council on Anti-Racism and Equity (CARE) will inaugurate a speaker series designed to highlight stories not always told in business, bring a diversity of perspectives to the school, and foster representation both in and out of the classroom. The ongoing colloquium is named for Ogilvie, who called on Yale to lead on issues of race and equity by “furthering world-class exchanges of ideas and ideals.”
In 1968, as undergraduate students, Ogilvie, Armstead Robinson, and Craig Foster invited Black studies scholars from all over the country to Yale for a symposium.
“Black students have thought about what we are missing in our university experience,” Ogilvie told attendees. “Within the present available framework we cannot readily apply the tools of a scholastic discipline to the experience, the problems, the wisdom, or the expression of black people…. We want an opportunity to learn about things that are relevant to our existence.”
His approach was thoughtful, thorough, determined, and engaged. It was also direct. “We are saying that this condition must be changed—radically. There is no justification for delay.”
Within months of the symposium, Yale established the first degree-granting Black Studies program at a major university in the United States.
Don was the guy among us who made sure that we were thorough in our preparations as we approached the university, to either ask for things or fight for things. He was the one saying, colloquially, ‘We have to have our sh*t together. We have to know what we want and why we want it. We have to articulate it in a way that they can understand, whether they agree with it or not. And then we have to tell them about the quality of our commitment to it, how hard we are going to push for it. And, we have to tell them why we think it’s good, not just for us, but for the institution.’
We always had to run whatever we were doing through that prism that Don Ogilvie would place on things. He did not want to be out there without knowing chapter and verse, why we want it, why we’re entitled to it, and how it makes things better for everybody.
He was a task master. He’d say, ‘Don’t think just about what you want, but about what the other guy would have to say about it. Consider all aspects of the thing and you’re going to be in a better position to achieve what you want.’ That’s what he would be preaching. That’s the Don Ogilvie life lesson.
Ogilvie arrived at Yale College in 1964. Among the 1,061 men in the Class of 1968 (women were first admitted in 1969) were 14 Black students—which doubled the population of Black undergraduates at Yale.
With the Civil Rights movement, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the Black Power movement, and the war in Vietnam, the late 1960s marked an extraordinary moment for the university and the country. An essay that Ogilvie and Robinson co-authored for their 25th reunion evoked the experience.
Whether we like it or not, the Black Revolution of the 1960s, with its mixture of political radicalism, student activism, and cultural transformation, imposed itself on our daily lives and on our imaginations so pervasively that this media-declared revolution became the defining moment of our Yale experience.
Of that Yale experience, they note, “Racial conflicts were not the norm. Had they been so, few of us would have expended so much energy trying to persuade other Black students to matriculate.” However, that didn’t mean the expanding Black student body, had no issues. “Yale often presented a paradoxical picture to us Black Blues. The surface of things invariably seemed warmly welcoming. Yet the racist past too often lurked just beneath the surface of gentility.”
Sitting in a great institution like Yale, having won a seat in the student body, it’s beautiful, it’s powerful. You might think you’re close to in heaven, but if you are one of 100 Black students on a campus of 4,000 students, and you’re the only Black student in most of your classes, that made it necessary to think about your place in the institution, and to think about how you can make the institution better for Black students and for everybody.
In the ’60s and ’70s, whether White people realized it or not, White institutions were focused on White things. Regular things, but also White things. There was no cultural repository for Black folks in that environment.
Yale recognized that reality after a campaign by students. The university created the Afro-American Cultural Center. Commonly referred to simply as The House, it remains a vital part of the university.
Ralph Dawson, winner of the Yale Medal in 2021, is still involved as a member of a board named to honor the student leaders who made The House possible—the Ogilvie, Robinson, and DeChabert Advisory Board.
We needed a place that could be a little bit of home away from home, where you could be off duty for a while. Where you are with people who are like you, and who share some of the same thoughts, though there were tremendous differences, even between us.
Today, when I walk into The House, there are events up on the board involving all sorts of Black organizations, integrated organizations, community-involved organizations. It’s a focal point for things that have an Afrocentric focus, for people, Black and White, to come together.
Both as a student and for years after, Ogilvie was active in New Haven. Describing the challenges facing the Black community in the city, he wrote, “Issues once assumed to be primarily racial are revealing themselves, more and more, to emanate from structural inequalities.” From 1968 until 1976, Ogilvie worked in a series of roles focused on expanding jobs and educational opportunities for Black New Haven particularly through connections between Yale and the community.
Yale sits smack dab in the middle of what was a Black community. But back in those days, there was a paucity of job opportunities for Black folks at Yale. After graduating, Don worked for Operation Breakthrough, which was a cooperative activity between Yale and the New Haven community. Its intent was to create a circumstance where Yale could increase the number of Black employees in the service and maintenance operations of Yale.
In 1976, under the leadership of founding dean Bill Donaldson, Yale’s School of Organization and Management opened its doors. Ogilvie was one of 50 students in the Charter Class of 1978. Working collaboratively, the faculty and students turned an idea into a curriculum, a mission into embodied choices and actions.
Pam Farr ’78:
We were such a small group, and it was brand new. We were all in it together. We were very much a part of deciding what SOM would become.
That suited Don. He wanted to be part of something new and different while he moved his skill set to the next level. He liked the notion that we were figuring out what this should be. It was a huge period of growth, like a rocket ship. Every day was just incredibly stimulating and challenging and stretching.
Bill Donaldson framed leadership as bringing your whole self to an enterprise. That means not just a skill set and ability to manage the bottom line, but your values, what’s important to you, what’s important for society, and having some confidence that you can actually think about that, and make judgements, and act in a way that has an impact.
Ken Colburn ’78:
Don wanted to have an impact. Absolutely.
Henry Lanier ’78:
If you ask any one of us, ‘Who’s the leader in this class?’ Donald would have to be in the top three from everybody’s perspective.
Don and I instantly bonded with our community-organizing background. Whatever the context, you could see him mentally gathering data, choosing the right moment to insert his voice, to lead, to be effective.
Cathy Lanier ’78:
He was always so alert as to what was going on. Again and again in classes he would take things that I and other people thought were pretty brilliant on their own, synthesize them so we all saw what was key, then used that understanding to carry the discussion forward.
I remember a big discussion in class about Milton Friedman’s shareholder theory—his argument was that capitalism works and free markets give everybody a chance. All these years later, inequality is getting attention, and we talk about stakeholder capitalism. But back then, Friedman’s name was so respected; he’d just won the Nobel Prize. Everybody in class was pretty much buying into his logic until Don said, ‘Nope. It’s a great theory. But, in the real world, it doesn’t cut it. Not everybody has the same chance. If you start out disadvantaged, free markets aren’t a fair game.’ He very characteristically pointed it out to the class in an educational manner.
If one of us said something that struck him as not quite right, he would challenge it in a way where he clearly was seeking the truth—finding what the reality was. It might be complex. It might be confusing. It might be surprising. He didn’t come in there with a preordained view.
Don was very conscious of being Black and what it meant at Yale and in New Haven and in life in general. If somebody said something racially offensive, his general reaction was, ‘Do you know what you just said? Do you know why it was wrong?’ He was direct; he was engaging. He’d talk it out with them. It was typical of Don to be bridging worlds. It was a challenging time. He took on challenges in a constructive way. He used his experience and abilities to move things forward.
He had this mix of both lightness and seriousness. He had a sense of humor, but he was also a truth seeker. He wanted to understand.
He was inspiring to all of us. If we could be as smart, articulate, caring, challenging, and courageous as Don, we’d be in pretty good shape. In terms of role models, he’d be as good as you get. But you couldn’t say that to his face. He hated to be put on a pedestal.
He was conflicted about whether to go back to working as an advocate. But he was recruited by all the investment banks and consulting firms. He decided he could do more good by advocating for change from within, rather than from outside, an established institution.
Don and I shared an office at McKinsey for years. He was analytical and a problem solver. We all were. That’s the whole purpose of what you do as a consultant. But he was also very good at relationship building. He was able to gain the trust and confidence of his clients. They viewed him as a partner rather than some outsider. Those who succeed in consulting have to be able to do both—offer solutions and have the clients’ trust so that they listen. Don was brilliant at both.
In their essay for their 25th reunion, Ogilvie and Robinson remarked on the changes and points of intransigence around race by contrasting the Yale of 1968 with the Yale of 1993. “For all this progress, race polarization remains an issue of significance at Yale today. Minority students complain, with justification, that aspects of Yalie culture remain impervious to their presence. This is an issue to which the new administration must surely devote sustained attention.”
And they offered a forecast. “[W]e feel a sense of deep resignation that at our 50th reunion we will probably find the stubbornly persistent issue of race polarization manifesting itself in whatever new forms reflect the conditions, constraints, and realities of 2018.”
Neither would attend that 50th reunion. Armstead Robinson died in 1995; Donald Ogilvie died in 2003. But their guidance still resonates and informs the hopes for the Ogilvie Colloquium.
Yale can and must be a beacon of responsible institutional citizenship. … Yale does best when it deals with matters of race within the context of its institutional missions. Thus, for example, Yale awarded the first PhD from an American university to a black New Havener, Edward Alexander Bouchet, in 1876.
Yale will continue to contribute to the ameliorization of a problem older than the American republic by responding to race polarization in a fashion appropriate to an institution dedicated, from its inception, to furthering world-class exchanges of ideas and ideals.
Portrait of Donald Ogilvie by Charles E. Yawson, courtesy of the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale.