Notes and Comments
Dear Harvard: Lose the Tin Cup
A couple of recent financial solicitations from my college -- one from the annual fund drive to help support faculty and students and another from the college’s alumni magazine -- finally stirred me to write the letter I have been intending to write for a long time.
Years of newspaper reports about the growing and increasingly obscene size of the Harvard University endowment ($23 billion) culminated recently with the news that the investment manager was leaving his position, which last year netted him $7.2 million for his labors. The combined compensation for all of the college’s top money managers was $78.4 million. Wow.
So I thought it was time to send the following communication to the Harvard College Fund in the return envelope provided by the solicitation. I note that postage was not pre-paid on the envelope intended for return to Harvard, likely to save the college the 37 cents.
If you can squeeze a little excess income out of the university’s $23 billion endowment, you might want to subscribe to a clipping service in order to learn how Harvard’s money-grubbing, tin-cup efforts are perceived in the real world.
Harvard and its irrational commitment to money and even more money all the time is embarrassing. It is akin to the financial excesses that executives at many large global corporations pursued and for which they now being tried as criminals. It is a kind of sickness, surely.
When is enough money enough and to what public service purposes are these billions and billions of dollars put?
My mother, who never went to college, sacrificed a good deal in order to enable me to attend Harvard, including going to work for Harvard in the office of Prof. Bruce Chalmers and helping to put out the Acta Metallurgica journal he edited. For nearly 15 years she functioned in a professional manner and was given wide latitude in her duties. She and others like her provided much of the intelligence and energy that kept the university functioning.
Yet, I was shocked to learn upon her death in 1991 that her pension from Harvard was slightly more that $40 a month, which seemed at odds to me with the vast fortune that Harvard had accumulated and the way money rained down on so many aspects of university operations. Shame on Harvard then, shame on Harvard today, when it sends out cry-baby solicitations for more money in order to provide adequate support for its faculty and students, no mention of staff, I note.
We’re pleased to support in our limited way the Roxbury Latin School, Beaver Country Day School, Wesleyan University, Smith College, and on the local level, Forbes Library, Lilly Library, the Smith Art Museum, the Northampton Center for the Arts, the Northampton Education Foundation, WFCR public radio, WGBY-TV, the United Way of Hampshire County, the Red Cross, the Academy of Music, The ACLU, the American Friends Service Committee, the Committee for Sustainable Agriculture, the Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Hampshire County Hospice, Pioneer Valley Habitat, Volunteers in the Schools, Look Park, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Northampton Dollars for Scholars, Valley Community Development Corp., Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Association, Jessie’s House, Shelter Sunday, the Massachusetts Audubon Society and the Northampton Survival Center.
I value the combined public service contributions of these organizations. They need our help and we’re happy to pitch in.
Harvard, on the other hand, neither needs nor deserves my support. I have felt this for a very long time, and you would too if you had the vaguest notion of the nature of the world most of us inhabit. I think we have our priorities right.
Edward K. Shanahan
Class of 1959