of us think Smith College is more than modestly well endowed,
when it comes to its investment portfolio.
After all, $900 million is a pretty sizable nest-egg. But
that's chump change when it comes to a really huge endowment,
such as the $19 billion figure that Harvard trumpets from
time to time when it wants to boast about its greatness
and its riches, which mean its virtue.
Other times, such as when students recently sat in at the
administration's Massachusetts Hall to focus public attention
on the lack of a living-wage policy for Harvard's lowest-paid
workers, the college is less comfortable crowing about its
But my hands are clean. In the 42 years since I graduated
from Harvard I have consistently refused to buy into and
feed the university's relentless, obsessive hunger for money,
always more money. There is never enough, even though each
year drives up the total endowment to ever greater astronomical
So we are now at $19 or $20 billion and still counting.
Let's look at the math. If Harvard received a return of
a mere 5 percent on its total endowment, its income on an
annual basis would be $950 million, or about the same amount
of money that Smith claims at its total endowment.
The student protesters wanted Harvard to agree to pay a
minimum wage of $10.25 an hour to those employees on the
bottom of the pay scale. According to newspaper accounts
more than 1,000 employees at Harvard are paid less than
that figure. These reports told of janitors and others service
workers, many of them immigrants or women, often earning
a starting pay of $6.75 an hour.
Harvard's arrogance and stinginess are legendary, and go
back many many years.
My mother was employed by Harvard as a secretary, or administrative
assistant as she would now be called, for more than 15 years
before retiring. She worked for a full professor in the
School Physics and Applied Sciences and in addition to secretarial
work, she performed editorial chores for a publication for
which the professor was responsible as editor.
Like most of the clerical staff at Harvard, my mother kept
the office running smoothly, made sure the professor met
his obligations to his students and colleagues, generally
was in charge of all the details that need tending to if
an institution is to function.
She worked long hours, as I recall, because some of those
years I was a student at the college and on her way home
from work, often well after 6 p.m., I would meet her outside
Eliot House where she would drop off some clean laundry
and a box of butterscotch brownies and we would visit briefly.
She enjoyed her work and took great pride in it and in her
relationship with the professor. And I never heard her complain
about what she earned from her job, although such discussions
might have taken place with my father and out of my earshot.
Many years later when I became responsible for her care,
I came across some information about my parents' financial
affairs. The precise figure eludes me but until my mother
died in 1991 she was receiving a monthly pension from Harvard
of somewhere between $50 and $60 a month, or $600 or $700
That was her reward from Harvard for all those years of
full-time commitment to that hallowed educational institution,
which then as now was "rich beyond the dreams of avarice."
Shame on Harvard for taking advantage of my mother in such
a unfeeling way. Wasn't it enough for her to be able say
she worked for Harvard; did she really have to be compensated
fairly as well?
Today's student protests are not the first time that Harvard
and its the exploitation of its employees have been exposed
to public view. In the late 1980s, after a bitter struggle,
a large segment of the university's white collar clerical
workers, almost all of them women, unionized and Harvard
was forced to go to the bargaining table.
Having chosen within the last month or so as its new president,
Lawrence Summers, a former Secretary of the United States
Treasury, it is unlikely Harvard will become less arrogant
and less obsessed with money in the future.
In fact, in picking a former treasury secretary to be its
27th president, Harvard is sending a very clear message.
Treasury secretary turned university president all but guarantees
that increasing its vast fortune - to no apparent useful
purpose or larger public benefit - will continue to be job
one at Harvard.