• August 30, 2014

The 'Veritas' About Harvard

Think Tank: The 'Veritas' About Harvard 1

Katherine Streeter

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close Think Tank: The 'Veritas' About Harvard 1

Katherine Streeter

What happens when the gods of high finance dump a gigantic pile of gold on the richest university in the world?

It sounds like the kind of hypothetical one might pose in a smoke-addled dorm room at 2 a.m. But it is, of course, what actually happened to Harvard University, along with a few of its elite competitors, over the last 20 years.

The answer is that the university reveals its true self. It shows the world what it cares about—and what it doesn't.

In 1990, Harvard had an endowment of about $4.7-billion. That was still a lot of money, about $7.7-billion in today's dollars. Only five other universities have that much money now. Over the next two decades the pile grew to colossal heights, $36.9-billion by mid-2008.

Harvard spent the money on many things. But not a dollar went to increasing the number of undergraduates it chose to bless with a Harvard education. In 1990 the university welcomed slightly more than 1,600 students to its freshman class. In 2008, $32-billion later, it enrolled slightly more than 1,600 freshmen.

That is remarkable stinginess. Harvard undergraduate degrees are immensely valuable, conferring a lifetime of social capital and prestige. The university receives many more highly qualified applicants than it chooses to admit. Because the existing class includes underqualified children of legacies, rich people, politicians, celebrities, and others who benefit from the questionable Ivy League admissions process, Harvard could presumably increase the size of its entering class by, say, 50 percent while improving the overall academic quality of the students it admits.

Granted, it would cost money to teach more students. The university would need to invest in land and buildings and professors. But that's precisely what the university spent the endowment on. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences alone expanded by more than 125 positions over the past decade and increased spending by hundreds of millions of dollars. The university gobbled up nearby land and erected a collection of handsome new buildings, creating over six million square feet of new space since 2000 alone. Yet none of the brilliant new people and buildings and land were used to give more undergrads a Harvard education.

Instead, in a fantastic public-relations coup, Harvard announced that it was spending a small fraction of its endowment on making the university more affordable for the upper-middle class. For that, it was praised to the skies for its commitment to opportunity and the egalitarian ideal. Competitors scrambled to follow suit, while also doing little or nothing to serve more undergraduate students.

That's because the true currency of elite higher education is admissions, not financial aid. And even more than graduate or professional programs, of which Harvard has many, undergraduate education is where colleges decide whether to narrow class divisions or make them wider. Harvard could have used its great fortune to create more spots for deserving low-income students and hire people to fan out across the world and find them. Instead, it spent a little bit of what it had a lot of—money—while jealously hoarding its real store of value.

Of course, we now know that the gigantic pile of gold wasn't as high as it seemed. In early September, endowment officials announced that they had lost $10-billon, a 27-percent drop. That has produced a predictable spate of blame-casting and general unhappiness. More professors and buildings and land increased annual operating costs substantially, requiring bigger payouts from the endowment. The university budgeted for those costs without allowing for the possibility of a collapse in the financial markets and exotic investments in which the endowment was entwined, proving once again that money is a great leveler: It makes even the smartest people in the world act stupidly.

Vanity Fair sent a reporter to Cambridge this year to assess the damage. She was told that the university had lowered thermostats by four degrees and would no longer be serving free coffee. Sources mentioned "overflowing trash cans" and larger class sizes. I assume this was some kind of elaborate prank cooked up by the university's Future Saturday Night Live Writers Club. What's the marginal cost of free coffee? Did the university reduce class sizes when all those newly hired professors came to town?

When the thermostat gambit failed to make up for the $10-billion hit, Harvard waited until the campus emptied out for the summer and then laid off almost 300 clerical and technical workers. The top administrators who lost the money and the full-time faculty members who received the money were unscathed.

That's because the real priority of elite higher education, as the receding tide of money has exposed, is the greater glory of elite higher education and the administrators and faculty members who work there. That's where all the money went, and that's where, now that some of the money turns out to have never existed in the first place, it needs to come from.

And when those cuts happen, as they must, Harvard and its peers should take the chance to assess why they made the choices they made with their huge piles of gold, and how long they can keep making them in the future.

Elite universities have benefited mightily from a number of converging long-term trends, none of their making. The markets made them rich, America made them famous, globalization and the information revolution made their services particularly valuable. The winner-take-all society made them objects of aspiration, nexuses of money, power, and prestige, places where those forces pulse and converge.

They are, without a doubt, extremely valuable institutions that contribute much in the way of science, scholarship. and culture. They make the world a better place. But they've mistaken their good fortune and great fortunes for virtue, and have lost their way.

An institution truly dedicated to teaching students has natural limits on how much money it needs. At some point, the land and space and professors suffice.

An institution dedicated to accumulating more money and prestige? There are no limits to those needs. They can never be satisfied.

The thought-experiment-made-real of Harvard's monstrous endowment proves that absolutely. In June 2008, at the apex of the endowment's illusory height, President Drew Gilpin Faust of Harvard dedicated much of her first commencement address to explaining why the university was not as rich as it seemed. Not because she saw the fool's gold for what it was, but because the need to spend was so great. "Our accountability to the future challenges us to do not less, but ever more," she said. Ever more. Aspiration without limit, accumulation without end.

That unquenchable thirst for resources, which is by no means unique to Harvard, has spread throughout the larger body of American higher education. Every state and city has its would-be Ivies now, striving for ways to build a heap of cash, not admit as many undergraduates as possible, and charge more tuition to those who remain.

Undergraduates are increasingly being used as decoration, passing strangers handy for photographs in brochures. That's why admissions officers work so hard to get them in all manner of shapes, sizes, and colors. And that's why nobody wants to admit more of them—you only need so many to fill out a brochure, and the more applicants you reject the more awesomely selective and unattainable—and thus attractive—you seem.

Even the greatest universities weren't built to handle the stress that comes with unlimited institutional and public need. They're schools, not governments—educational institutions, not nation-states. If they're not careful, the unruly and immensely powerful forces of wealth and aspiration will break them apart.

It's said that the wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it an unscalable wall. That some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. Such truths were well known to those who stamped "Veritas" on the Harvard seal hundreds of years ago. The university needs to learn them again and to get back to the simpler, smaller, more important task of helping people learn.

Kevin Carey is policy director of Education Sector, an independent think tank in Washington.

Comments

1. rdittben - September 28, 2009 at 10:41 am

WOW! What an excellent and thoughtful analysis. It some ways, the real Harvard behavior is antithetical to the needs of an America that seeks greater attention to egalitarian distribution of benefits in the interest of the nation. What the article did not mention is that even at Harvard, faculty are viewed as casual labor. A small percentage have tenure, compared to Stanford University, where most faculty have tenure. Perhaps the dream of the best education being found at Harvard is really an illusion; and, the dream is best sought after elswehere.

2. dank48 - September 28, 2009 at 11:18 am

Alfred Kazin published a brilliant piece in Esquire years and years ago, "The Trouble with Harvard," in which he wrote, "The trouble with Harvard is not that it hates America. The trouble with Harvard is that it mistakes itself for America."

That crazy City on a Hill bologna continues to infect self-annointed elites, who are blinded by their wealth and their greed to the simple fact that they are no better and no smarter than anyone else, except as defined by their own circular reasoning.

3. _perplexed_ - September 28, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Harvard is not a university supported by an endowment...It is a corporation that utilizes a university to earn income.

4. mal1000 - September 28, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Echoing the first person to comment, thank you for an outstanding article.

I invite Harvard University to respond in detail to each of your points - not with the "talking around your points rather than responding to each of your points" of the increasingly common university PR release; not with the senior administrators considering that it is beneath them to actually respond in person, but sending their PR people with their talking points; but with the detailed response to each of your points worthy of the level of debate that should occur in higher education.

I would also request that The Chronicle provide space for such a response.

Would'nt it be wonderful if The Chronicle organized a "live" debate between you and Harvard Administrators and provide a video of the debate online to readers?



5. rightwingprofessor - September 28, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Wow so bitter, were you rejected by Harvard or something? Harvard is an elite, PRIVATE, school. It can educate however many or few undergraduates that it chooses.

If it were to grant 50% more undergraduate degrees this would lower the value of the degree, for current students and alumni.

6. n2n_0131 - September 28, 2009 at 12:59 pm

As a fundraiser for a small institution, I couldn't agree more. How much is enough? Apparently, no amount is for some colleges and universities. I have told recruiters - much to their bewilderment - not to bother me with jobs at the rich Ivies. I have no interest in helping them make money they don't need!

7. mal1000 - September 28, 2009 at 01:01 pm

PS You have focused your analysis on Harvard University. As you undoubtedly know, there is a lifetime of work for researchers on similar usage/non-usage/inappropriate usage of endowment funds by many other universities.

8. elizabeth_o - September 28, 2009 at 02:03 pm

These large universities spend their resources to study education and service in general, and higher education in particular. When these studies are effective, they help every college in the world to do a better job of teaching, and show every institution how to be of better service. This is the role of the research university.

There's a part of all of us that wishes every institution behaved like a fine small liberal arts college. But large research universities actually play a different role -- an expensive role, granted -- and their meta-analysis role is also important.

9. jesor - September 28, 2009 at 02:21 pm

Elizabeth, I do agree that research universities are needed and that they do play a role, however when a research university ceases to be an educational institution and is effect a research institute, then it needs to acknowledge it's role. When the majority of your faculty cease to set foot in the classroom, but you advertise a 10:1 Student to faculty ratio, then that's not really truth in advertising.
As for rightwing's response, I hardly doubt that an additional 800 or even 1600 Harvard degrees per year would somehow decrease the value of the diploma. It may actually increase the value given that the perception of the ivies is shifting from one of academic excellence to an image of a place where the connected and powerful purchase admission for their underachieving children, and a few forsaken teaching faculty struggle to mold their Perrier addled brains into something useful. A few more Horatio Algers in the freshman class would do them well.

10. vfichera - September 28, 2009 at 03:33 pm

@_perplexed_ "Harvard is not a university supported by an endowment...It is a corporation that utilizes a university to earn income."

In this respect, while all of the above article might equally apply to all of the Ivies and other elitist institutions, Yale University is perhaps the most "honest" in its advertising: The Yale Board of Trustees is officially known as "The Yale Corporation."

11. jschantz - September 28, 2009 at 03:36 pm

I just love that the person presiding over this debacle was named Faust...was anyone in the endowment office named Mephistopheles?

Classics, my friends, the answer aleways lies in the Classics!

12. cwinton - September 28, 2009 at 04:55 pm

I've always been mystified as to why anyone thinks an undergraduate education from Harvard (or Yale, or MIT for that matter) has any real value other than the hype. Just getting in, at least for those selected for admission competitively, carries far more value than the quality of the educational experience. As was implied in a number of these posts, the emphasis of these institutions, and the source of their perceived prestige, is research. Undergraduate education is something of an afterthought to be tolerated. The high profile faculty, if they teach at all, devote their time and energy to the graduate students who are capable of supporting their research agendas. For undergraduate studies, students would be far better advised to attend one of the small liberal arts schools that actually take undergraduate education seriously, and might actually prepare them to pursue graduate education in one of the elites.

13. ksledge - September 28, 2009 at 07:41 pm

This article had a seriously bitter, sore-loser sort of tone. But as I read it, I couldn't help but agree.

14. melior2 - September 28, 2009 at 10:32 pm

As I read this article, I recalled the arrogance of Drew Faust in 2007, when she said the lesser institutions should not have science endeavors as ambitious as Harvard and is peers.

Now, where are Faust's ambitious endeavors? Harvard was as financially reckless as the many Harvard MBAs that contributed to the Wall Street meltdown. Given this record, what would one conclude about the real value of a Harvard degree? In any real world terms, one would have to rank its business school at the bottom!

Finally, the recent death of the great plant scientist, Norman Borlaug, reminds us that this graduate of a land-grant university did more to benefit mankind than all of Harvard's scientific elite combined (literally!)

15. sputtervision - September 29, 2009 at 10:08 am

An exceptionally well written perspective; you can argue that Harvard's mission has changed to graduate education and research which has public benefit, but then who did that? Who made that decision? I've worked on evaluation teams on behalf of the great state of Massachusetts and they are a state very involved in the curriculum/missions of their postsecondary institutions. I think had such a dramatic shift in mission been proposed at Harvard we would have read about it.

In the end, it does raise the question, when is a not-for-profit no longer a not-for-profit? I don't think the answer is determined by how much money you have in your piggy bank, rather by how you spend the money over which you exercise control. The distinguishing feature between a not-for-profit is theoretically the absence of personal benefit inuring to owners or franchised players. The real fault of Harvard is lacking the discipline to avoid excess consumption by those franchised players at the expense of diminishing the impact of their mission.

Well done,

16. cleverclogs - September 29, 2009 at 02:03 pm

@rightwing re: "If it were to grant 50% more undergraduate degrees this would lower the value of the degree, for current students and alumni."

Surely not. Are you likening Harvard degrees to diamonds, valuable only because they are rare (and kept "rare" because of some sort of weird capitalist scheme)? Surely the value of the Harvard degree should be because it's coming from a school whose academics are superior, in which case, rarity has nothing to do with value.

What should hurt the value of the degree is that it is awarded to the likes of underqualified legacies; yet strangely, it doesn't (although, personally, our last president made me lose all respect for Yale). I live in a place where you can't swing a dead cat without hitting an Ivy Leaguer, and I will tell you, some of them are smart and lovely, some are stupid and vicious, and the majority are mediocre - just like everywhere else.

I think the question should be, why do we afford the Ivies this absurd respect? Ralph Waldo Emerson didn't think Harvard was any great shakes, and he was as right now as he was then. They're wealthy, they're pretty, they've got some petrified laurels... I say we stop with the silly belief that they provide a better education. I haven't seen much evidence of that.

What they do provide is contacts to people with political and cultural power, so in effect, they do produce movers and shakers in a self-replicating system. But they don't necessarily produce the best minds. And if the general public could get beyond the idea that they do, we might be able to call them on their bluff and bluster and actually make them do something useful.

17. cleverclogs - September 29, 2009 at 02:05 pm

@rightwing re: "If it were to grant 50% more undergraduate degrees this would lower the value of the degree, for current students and alumni."

Surely not. Are you likening Harvard degrees to diamonds, valuable only because they are rare (and kept "rare" because of some sort of weird capitalist scheme)? Surely the value of the Harvard degree should be because it's coming from a school whose academics are superior, in which case, rarity has nothing to do with value.

What should hurt the value of the degree is that it is awarded to the likes of underqualified legacies; yet strangely, it doesn't (although, personally, our last president made me lose all respect for Yale). I live in a place where you can't swing a dead cat without hitting an Ivy Leaguer, and I will tell you, some of them are smart and lovely, some are stupid and vicious, and the majority are mediocre - just like everywhere else.

I think the question should be, why do we afford the Ivies this absurd respect? Ralph Waldo Emerson didn't think Harvard was any great shakes, and he was as right now as he was then. They're wealthy, they're pretty, they've got some petrified laurels... I say we stop with the silly belief that they provide a better education. I haven't seen much evidence of that.

What they do provide is contacts to people with political and cultural power, so in effect, they do produce movers and shakers in a self-replicating system. But they don't necessarily produce the best minds. And if the general public could get beyond the idea that they do, we might be able to call them on their bluff and bluster and actually make them do something useful.

18. cleverclogs - September 29, 2009 at 02:06 pm

@rightwing re: "If it were to grant 50% more undergraduate degrees this would lower the value of the degree, for current students and alumni."

Surely not. Are you likening Harvard degrees to diamonds, valuable only because they are rare (and kept "rare" because of some sort of weird capitalist scheme)? Surely the value of the Harvard degree should be because it's coming from a school whose academics are superior, in which case, rarity has nothing to do with value.

What should hurt the value of the degree is that it is awarded to the likes of underqualified legacies; yet strangely, it doesn't (although, personally, our last president made me lose all respect for Yale). I live in a place where you can't swing a dead cat without hitting an Ivy Leaguer, and I will tell you, some of them are smart and lovely, some are stupid and vicious, and the majority are mediocre - just like everywhere else.

I think the question should be, why do we afford the Ivies this absurd respect? Ralph Waldo Emerson didn't think Harvard was any great shakes, and he was as right now as he was then. They're wealthy, they're pretty, they've got some petrified laurels... I say we stop with the silly belief that they provide a better education. I haven't seen much evidence of that.

What they do provide is contacts to people with political and cultural power, so in effect, they do produce movers and shakers in a self-replicating system. But they don't necessarily produce the best minds. And if the general public could get beyond the idea that they do, we might be able to call them on their bluff and bluster and actually make them do something useful.

19. wilkenslibrary - September 30, 2009 at 01:09 am

With all that money, why does Harvard inflict non-English-speaking TAs who don't want to teach, don't know how to teach, and don't know anything about our educational system and values on undergrads in some of the basic courses, math especially? How many potential scientists have moved into other fields to escape the math requirements? What a travesty!

20. laoshi - September 30, 2009 at 10:49 am

So why do we habitually coronate, or elect, Harvard grads to rule over our lives? Maybe they really are all that and a abag of chips.

21. goldrick - September 30, 2009 at 02:11 pm

You go Kevin. Spot on.

--Sara

22. srpinpgh - September 30, 2009 at 04:18 pm

This article is especially pointed, given that so many Harvard MBAs are responsible for the current state of the economy. How delicious it is that their machinations ultimately damaged their alma mater along with everyone else.

23. kurtgluck - September 30, 2009 at 04:26 pm

@rightwing -- Even if you thought that, then Harvard could slowing increase the number of degrees to match the increase in population, or the size of the economy and hold the same 'value'.

24. takapa - October 01, 2009 at 12:17 pm

I guess I don't get it, or perhaps I just don't care, but... So the point of the article was that the folks at Harvard raised more money than I can even imagine and they spent it ways that were important to them. The cash flow went to faculty and buildings (something I imagine all faculty would appreciate to some degree) and not to more undergraduates. The author thinks the money should be spent on other things. But, the university and the people who gave the money are satisified.

I can complain about anything (and do), and surely could come up with different ways to spend the cash than they did. But, that would be a blog or a fora post in my eyes. I just don't see this is as a big deal. Sure, educate more undergraduates, whatever. They have their dough and they spent it how they, their board, and their benefactors wished. They lost some value of the endowment (I imagine like the rest of the economy it will come back). They made some cuts. I bet if they had cut faculty we would have seen a similar article lamenting faculty cuts. Same for buildings, equipment, etc. Harvard is like Wal-Mart. Harvard has the BIG endowment; Wal-Mart is the BIG business. Everybody else does their own things, has their own problems, but most have similar issues albeit on smaller scales.

I guess I just don't care...

25. mssmiley - October 01, 2009 at 02:33 pm

Very insightful and well presented postion. This instition serves to maintain privilege and status thus perpetuating inequality and social class. It has never been its goal to grant access to the "little people." It has, and will always be about family connections and big pockets. I hope the powers that be have the intestinal fortitude to look deep into their symbolic frame and make the necessary adjustments to meet the challenges of new epoch of student needs; this is a moral imperative.

26. valisono - October 01, 2009 at 05:35 pm

Kevin mistakes Harvard's purpose - it is certainly *not* to provide mass education. The argument that Harvard should admit more poor students is a red herring. The real issue is why state universities do such a poor job of graduating students within 6 years. At some schools, it's as low as 40%.

27. spatulus - October 01, 2009 at 05:44 pm

With great excitement I was accepted at Harvard 5 yrs ago. I do not come from wealth. But I assumed I'd be going. Then my visit was disorganized, full of irritating people (staff and students), and though I was supposed to receive the most assistance they offered, I still would have needed a counterfeiting machine to live in Boston and pay Harvard's tuition. So I declined. Given the nation's ensuing economic collapse, not living in Boston or going into great debt, has turned out to be the wisest thing I ever did.

28. lily89 - October 01, 2009 at 06:34 pm

<Comment removed by moderator>

29. theobserver - October 01, 2009 at 07:08 pm

@Valisono: I think it's pretty simple...public schools with grad rates 'as low as 40%' usually have low standards, in some cases accepting students with sub-C averages. This means that they're accepting students who aren't very interested in higher education. How is it a surprise that these schools would have low graduation rates? At the same time, the top public schools are posting perfectly acceptable graduation rates. So is it really a problem with public universities? That's like saying public high school systems are the cause of drop-out rates in the ghetto, when the same system works fine for rich folks.

30. jthelin - October 01, 2009 at 10:08 pm

One commentator emphasized the term,"The Yale Corporation." That is not necessarily a bad thing. I believe Harvard College was the first "corporation" granted a charter in the then American colonies. What often is forgotten is that business "corporations" followed academic "corporations" in their structure and legal standing -- and reliance on an external board.

Great article by Kevin Carey.

John Thelin

31. solaar - October 02, 2009 at 04:25 am

I registered with this website specifically to comment on this story.

As a Harvard Alum (class of 08), I can't help but wonder what made this writer so bitter. Do you not understand that admitting more students would dilute the value of a Harvard degree?

Sounds like somebody only got into Yale...

32. cnratncsu - October 02, 2009 at 03:40 pm


Solaar, glad you've joined the board. I do take exception to your first post. Should Harvard attempt to increase the value of a Harvard degree by reducing admissions for the class of 2014?

Whether one considers the article to have a bitter tone is secondary, and as I hope you'd agree, Harvard isn't the only place one could get a quality education of its caliber. If you see things differently, despite your prestigious 4 year credential, I can't help but ponder if the term "intellectual elite" applies to you by any definition.



33. robcrosman - October 02, 2009 at 06:25 pm

As a Harvard undergraduate I studied very hard and learned a great deal. I continue to be grateful for what I learned, which serves me well in my current role as professor in an open-admission public university (Univ. of Alaska Anchorage). I was one of 1100 of the Class of '61; perhaps that makes my degree almost 50% more valuable than the degrees of more recent classes? I hope not.
I think I would have done better at a small liberal arts college, like Swarthmore or Wesleyan, but who's to know
Since Harvard is obscenely rich, I pride myself on never having given it money. What little I have to give I give to my under-endowed present institution. The State of Alaska is rich, but our legislature has higher priorities than education. Like Harvard, its first goal is getting richer, via more development, and has not yet fully grasped the connection between education and development.
In a country that worships wealth beyond all things, Harvard would be seriously out of step if it worshiped anything else. But for what it's worth, I and probably many others, present and past, went to Harvard for the intrinsic value of its education, not for the economic value of its degree.

34. henobi - October 04, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Like most colleges, the teaching at Harvard is variable. The course catalog is large, but many courses are oversubscribed or unavailable when students want to take them. I've proposed that every university that receives Federal funds should put a portion of its courses online to make education more accessible to all. M.I.T. apparently has taken the lead and done so.

35. ledzep - October 06, 2009 at 04:38 pm

The extension of this argument not only to Harvard, but to research universities tout court is what's really persuasive. It's probably good that there be a few places that use their prestige and reputation to turn themselves into research centers and venues in which to congregate some (certainly not all) very smart people and give them lots and lots of resources to find stuff out. (Though Carey is certainly right that such research centers shouldn't turn around and claim that their first priority is undergraduate education. That is spot-on.) But the idea that all universities of a certain size should aspire to be as much like Harvard et al. as they possibly can is simply ridiculous and harmful.

36. obfpir - October 07, 2009 at 12:31 pm

vfichera:

'In this respect, while all of the above article might equally apply to all of the Ivies and other elitist institutions, Yale University is perhaps the most "honest" in its advertising: The Yale Board of Trustees is officially known as "The Yale Corporation."'

Harvard's board is called the "Harvard Corporation," too. Where do you think Yale got the idea? :)

37. painter33 - October 12, 2009 at 09:30 am

Even with all of the business decisions all colleges and universities must make, at least at Harvard the limit on undergraduate class size in the majority of courses affords the type of learning environment that is indeed rare and one that would change the entire course of all education if broadly employed. Class size, the horror of K-12 and higher public education, is really what enables all students to flourish and expand, and Harvard's shockingly limited size restrictions (to me) translate to what all institutions say they want - "student-centered" education. I was fortunate to have taught at Harvard for one year in a rotating visiting position and can say without any doubt that the students are given the best learning opportunities that money can buy. Yes, money buys those opportunities. In its swirl of riches, Harvard makes other purchases that might lead to questionable (read: envious) examination from the outside, but as an earlier posters reminds us, it's a private institution able to do or not do as it pleases. Harvard shouldn't be confused with an open-admissions, 6-year average graduation rate, football-crazed State U that has its purse strings controlled by under educated legislators with agendas that mostly don't include higher education.

38. demery1 - October 12, 2009 at 09:39 am

I'm not surprised a research university spent money attracting researchers and providing facilities for them. It would be worth the effort to see if Harvard's larger faculty also garnered more research funds or greater research productivity.

Undergaduate education is a very small piece of the puzzle.

39. marka - October 12, 2009 at 07:37 pm

Hmmm ... No one seems to have noted that Harvard, as well as other research universities -undoubtedly receives large amounts of government money for research & other purposes, as well as private monies. I wonder how many private contributors are concerned about The Corporation's expenditure of 'endowment'? I'd be surprized if some aren't. Regardless, as a taxpayer, I'm certainly concerned about the tax advantages & taxpayer money Harvard receives if this is the way they squander 'my' money. Also, there is a growing body of research that suggests an Ivy degree is not quite the economic valuable it was in the past. I'm sure it still has social cache ... Finally, this is a worthwhile article to read & ponder as one makes 'non-profit' contributions to institutions that plead poverty or good-works, and one votes for elected officials or petitions one's government to alter the tax advantages of said 'non-profits' and change the allocation of research $$$.

40. em8343 - October 14, 2009 at 09:37 am

It is interesting to note that those few who have mentioned Yale in their comments have either focused on the "Corporation" or have suggested that the article was written by someone who was passed over by Harvard and had to "settle" for Yale. I wonder why they decided not to mention that Yale College several years ago announced that it would be increasing the number of undergraduates accepted and is currently clearing ground in preparation for the erection of two new residential colleges, which will substantially "devalue" a Yale degree according to some of the posters to this article. But, then, Yale has always placed tremendous importance on the education of its undergraduates , which is why Yale College remains at the center of the university's educational mission. In fact, two Nobel laureates (Sid Altman in Biology and Tom Steitz in Chemistry) routinely teach undergraduate courses. And, yes, Yale is also a great center of research and has some very highly-regarded professional and graduate school programs, but the emphasis is on the continual improvement of education in the College. And by building two new residential colleges Yale seeks to increase that educational experience for more high school graduates, which underscores the point of Mr. Carey's article.

41. dirkpitt - November 20, 2009 at 02:39 pm

I totally disagree. There are three things you failed to mention or distorted.

1) Harvard meets 100% of every students financial need. No one is not admitted because they can not pay. There are no proverbial rich legacy movie stars taking the place of an economically poor applicant. 2) The endowment is not a budget it is a bank account. The endowment is an investment and from the various investments the university receives interest, like from a savings account, and the majority of that interest is reinvested. Moreover an endowment is not university wide. An endowment is made up of many many funds associated with many many different parts of a university for many many different uses. Part of an endowment would be, for example, at the law school, part with an ed school, part would be only for graduates of certain high schools, part would be to plant a tree each year on campus, part would be for expressly donated for financial aid, and parts of endowments are expressly donated for graduate work, and parts are only to buy library books, and parts are for et cetera et cetera. Endowments are not budgets. For the 60 or so schools who have billion dollar endowments such funds provide only a small income from interest and nothing else. 3) Out of the largest 500 universities in the US Harvard ranks 102nd in enrollment size. That means there are 398 schools with smaller student bodies. The vast majority of the 500 schools on this list do not provide the amount of need based aid available at Harvard. The idea that Harvard is currently keeping out economically deprived students is untrue. Harvard College is intended to be a small liberal arts school. Hence it's size relative to those other 500 schools. And it provides excellent need based aid for all it's admitted students.

Your article seems to be a pot stirrer. Something written to get your name in the Chronicle and out "there." You did not back up your accusations against the admissions process, you misstate what and how an endowment works, you never stated exactly what you are suggesting Harvard spends its budget on, you never cover just how much financial aid does for Harvard's students, nor do you suggest anything more than Harvard should admit more undergrads and it's nor fair that they do not. Harvard is a school, not a cabal, the college admits the same number of students as any other liberal arts school. I hope to see another and better article from you in the near future.

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