A.B. History and ScienceNewegg Inc., Chief Legal Officer, SVP of Corporate Development and Corporate Secretary“As the child of an immigrant librarian and bookkeeper, and public school product, I am a grateful beneficiary of Harvard’s financial aid program. I am on the Free Harvard Fair Harvard candidate slate (www.freeharvard.org) to make Harvard accessible to all qualified applicants, particularly those from working middle class families.
At the same time, I support affirmative action, but oppose discrimination. I believe that the University can only become truly diverse, and truly inclusive, by becoming completely transparent about admissions criteria and practices. More transparency has always improved and increased access for the underprivileged.”
Lee Cheng is the Chief Legal Officer, SVP of Corporate Development and Corporate Secretary at Newegg Inc., the largest online only electronics retailer in North America. He oversees or has run Newegg’s Legal, Corporate Development, Compliance, Ethics, Human Resources, Government Relations and Risk Management functions, and created the Newegg Foundation to facilitate and encourage community and philanthropic activity at Newegg.
Mr. Cheng’s work and contributions in the legal arena have been recognized nationally. He has been named one of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s (NAPABA) Best Lawyers Under 40 (2009), a Top In-House Counsel in California (2013) by the Daily Journal, California’s leading legal publication, was awarded the Vanguard Award from the State Bar of California’s IP Section (2013) and was recognized as one of America’s 50 Outstanding General Counsel (2014) and one of 50 IP Pioneers and Trailblazers (2014) by the National Law Journal. In 2015, Mr. Cheng received an In-House Impact Award from leading legal publication The Recorder (2015). In 2011, under Mr. Cheng’s leadership, the Newegg Legal Department received Inside Counsel magazine’s Top 10 Innovation award.
At both Newegg and in the legal profession, Mr. Cheng has been a champion of efforts to equitably and sustainably increase diversity. The Newegg legal department is and has always been one of the most diverse in corporate American. Under Mr. Cheng’s leadership, women and minorities have always constituted a majority of Newegg legal professionals. In addition, Mr. Cheng was the founder and Chair of the Prospective Partners Program (PPP) at NAPABA to help Asian American senior associates and of counsel become law firm partners. Since the PPP’s launch in 2010, 86% (31 out of 36) program participants have been elevated to partner or become (even better!) in-house clients within 2 years of participation. Mr. Cheng is presently working to scale the PPP into other bar associations like the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA).
Outside of the legal profession, Mr. Cheng has been elected to 2 terms on the Consumer Technology Association's (CTA) Board of Industry Leaders and has received the NYU-Polytechnic Innovation Award (2011). He is the Chair of the Law Committee of the Consumer Technology Association (formerly the Consumer Electronics Association) as well as a 2-term member of CTA’s Board of Industry Leaders.
Mr. Cheng has also held leadership positions or served on the Boards of professional, community and affinity organizations like the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Southern California, Asian American Legal Foundation, the Asian American Coalition for Education, the Organization of Chinese Americans (SF Chapter), the Harvard Club of San Francisco and the Lowell High School Alumni Association. He is a founding member of the Advisory Board of the Chapman University School of Law’s Business Emphasis Program.
Mr. Cheng is frequently asked to speak on a variety of legal and business topics, including legal function management, achieving successful outcomes in litigation, international expansion and social media regulations. He has been profiled in leading legal publications such as the Los Angeles Daily Journal and San Francisco Recorder and has been interviewed by major news and media outlets like Wall St. Journal, Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Internet Retailer. Furthermore, Mr. Cheng has been invited to testify or to submit testimony to the US House of Representatives (Commerce and Judiciary Committees), the US Senate (Judiciary Committee), the US International Trade Commission and the US Federal Trade Commission.
Prior to joining Newegg, Mr. Cheng was an attorney in the corporate department of Latham & Watkins, a leading international law firm. Mr. Cheng also served as the VP and general counsel of GeneFluidics, Inc., a medical devices company, and the VP of administration and legal affairs at LightCross, Inc., an optical networking components company. Earlier in his career, Mr. Cheng worked at top-tier law firms including Gray, Cary, Ware & Freidenrich (now DLA Piper) and Dow Lohnes & Albertson.
Mr. Cheng received an A.B. in History and Science, magna cum laude, from Harvard University and a JD from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.
He is fluent in spoken Mandarin Chinese, which was his first language.
Mr. Cheng is married and has 3 children—ages 11, 9 and 15 months.
Lee Cheng, Class of '93
Harvard University Board of Overseers Election (2016)
1. How important should student diversity be at Harvard? What strategies should the University pursue regarding this?
A truly diverse student body is critical to both the education of students at Harvard as well as to Harvard’s continuing relevance. Diversity, however, must be measured in ways that are far more than skin deep, and far more emphasis needs to be placed on helping students from socioeconomically disadvantaged, and even middle class, backgrounds access and succeed at Harvard. A diversity program that concentrates the wealthy and privileged of different ethnic groups has not achieved the optimal form of diversity.
The University can begin to increase more broadly inclusive diversity by using, or focusing more of its resources on, removing the obstacle of tuition from consideration for all applicants. This is the heart of the “Free Harvard” plank.
Current Harvard financial aid programs, while commendable, provide relatively few applicants with freedom from having to worry about tuition payments. Tuition has skyrocketed for little reason, particularly given the extent of the University’s financial resources and ability to redirect and access additional resources. Tuition, even with financial aid, disproportionately burdens applicants from working middle and upper middle class families the most. Applicants from truly wealthy families don’t care about tuition payments, and thus arguably are advantaged over middle and upper-middle class applicants.
While no data appears to be available on how many applicants are deterred from applying to Harvard on the assumption that they would not qualify for enough financial aid, I believe it would be safe to assume that no tuition would encourage more non-wealthy students to apply. Eliminating tuition would also allow the students who are accepted who may not enroll because their financial aid packages were insufficient to do so.
Harvard should also use, and indeed, I believe Harvard has a duty to, extend efforts to diversify its student population beyond admissions, to programs across America at the K-12 level, and potentially even beyond. Such efforts would ensure that students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, including and especially students from historically discriminated against ethnic minority communities, can qualify for and succeed at Harvard. “Fair Harvard” can best be achieved, and complemented by an initiative I think could be called “More Harvard.”
Full transparency in admissions—from criteria, to how much each criteria is weighted and applied in admissions decisions, to the effect of admissions decisions—will help enable and increase diversity. Many have questioned the legitimacy of legacy admissions. Let’s fully understand how much of a factor those preferences play, and exactly who benefits? How about donation-based admissions? Is Harvard charging enough for donation-based preferences? Are poor students of color really the primary beneficiaries of race preferences?
Let there be light.
Let fact, and data, be our guides.
2. Please state your views on affirmative action.
I have always been a strong supporter of affirmative action, which I define as programs to help the disadvantaged in different societal contexts achieve equal access to opportunities. I am the child of an immigrant librarian and bookkeeper, and a product of public schools before Harvard, so I have strong reason to believe that society can benefit greatly when people who are not from privileged backgrounds are given chances to reach their potentials.
I believe that race can be considered in college admissions—it is a legitimate aspect of what makes every person different and diverse. However, I oppose racial discrimination—there is nothing affirmative about racial discrimination. Race-determinative admissions, where individuals, often from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, end up being discriminated against based on race and ethnicity, is morally repugnant to me. It is never justifiable to favor someone rich over someone poor. It is never justifiable to require one applicant to have to work harder, and achieve more, to have the same outcome, because of their skin color. Race can be used, in my opinion, as a thumb on the scale of two equally qualified candidates, but it should not be used to justify different scales altogether.
I would advocate, as stated above, greatly enhanced efforts to make Harvard accessible to applicants of all communities who presently either do not consider Harvard a viable option, or are underrepresented (including ethnically). Efforts must begin far earlier than the senior year of high school, and would require enormous resources, creativity and perseverance, along with a heavy dose of idealism.
But we are Harvard alumni. We gained admission to and obtained degrees from the greatest and best funded institution of learning in the history of the world because of our promise and potential, expressed and unexpressed, to find solutions to the toughest problems and to change the world for the better. As for resources, I cannot imagine that an institution that can fund billions of dollars in professional class athletic facilities and offices and dormitories that compare favorably to luxury hotels cannot find the resources to equitably and sustainably advance social justice.
3. Please state your views on race-conscious college admissions (if not specified in your answer to question #2).
Please see my response to Question #2.
4. Please state your views on whether Harvard should be more transparent about its college admissions process, particularly about how the mix of students is created.
Transparency has always been the friend of the disadvantaged. The opacity of the current admissions criteria and process, how those criteria are weighted and how admissions decisions are made, creates huge advantages for the privileged and wealthy. Talented, motivated and hardworking students who don’t have access to counselors and expensive consultants who were former Ivy League admissions officers should be able to get the same insights on college admissions as their more privileged peers. Transparency will go a long way toward leveling the playing field in college admission, and naturally create and result in a more diverse student body, especially socioeconomically.
Further, full transparency, limited only by legally necessary protections for personally identifiable information, will allow the Harvard community and the world at large to determine whether the criteria used, or how they are used, are achieving the outcomes declared and desired, or if they may in fact be unfairly discriminatory.
Accountability is perhaps a concept that is not commonly associated with college admissions or academia. It should be. Harvard should have nothing to hide with respect to its admissions practices. Not providing full transparency would suggest that it does. Transparency should also enable flaws to be more quickly corrected, and improvements made.
5. What steps have you taken to bring diversity to your workplace or to an organization that you have participated in?
I have worked at Newegg.com for over 10 years now, and am proud to have built and led what has always and consistently been one of the most diverse legal departments in corporate America and relative to our size, one of the highest performing. We are not a large group, but a majority of our members have always been members of ethnic minority groups and women. Presently, my legal department consists of 6 lawyers or legal specialists, 5 of whom are ethnic minorities, with two women. At one time, a third of my department’s lawyers were LGBT.
I have also led efforts to broaden outreach in recruiting and hiring generally, and helped research and implement an affirmative action program at Newegg. However, Newegg’s workforce overall has always had significant numbers of minorities, reflecting the diverse communities in which we operate.
Outside of Newegg, and in the broader legal community, I founded and have run a program for the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) called the Prospective Partners Program (PPP) which seeks to help increase the number of Asian American partners at law firms in an equitable and sustainable way. The PPP introduces APA senior associates and of counsel to senior APA in-house lawyers who coach and advise the “prospective partners” on the most effective ways to make partner and to win and retain clients. Since the PPP was launched in 2010, 86% (31/36) of PPP participants have either made partner or (even better!) become in-house clients within 2 years of participation.
I am presently working with my Newegg colleagues to help other minority bar associations, starting with the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) launch similar programs. None of these programs have or are intended to exclude any participant based on race.