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Stop Giving $ To Harvard

Gregg Easterbrook, Brookings Institution curmudgeon, goes on an off-topic rant in his weekly ESPN football column about the pointlessness of donating money to an institution richer than many countries:

“Stop Giving to Harvard! Harvard University just announced it received $651 million in donations in the fiscal year that ended this summer. Harvard’s FY 2008 donations alone exceed the endowments of Brandeis University, Carleton College, Colgate University, College of the Holy Cross and Washington and Lee University, respectively, just to name a few great schools, and of the entire state university system of Louisiana. Harvard’s 2008 donations exceed the entire endowments of Spelman College and DePaul University combined. Harvard’s 2008 donations alone exceed the entire endowments of Alfred University, Beloit College, Millsaps College, Randolph-Macon College, Ursinus College and Xavier University (Ohio) combined.

The amount of wealth being hoarded by the top few schools in the U.S. now borders on obscene. Harvard has a $37 billion endowment — that figure exceeds the Gross Domestic Product of Kenya, where 40 million people live. That figure exceeds the GDP of Iceland and Honduras combined. Yale has an endowment of $23 billion. Stanford had a $17 billion endowment last year, and is expected to soon announce an increase. (Fiscal 2007 endowments for all colleges are here.) Princeton, MIT and the University of Texas system also have ginormous endowments of many billions. Yet Whitworth University, to cite a typical liberal arts school, has an $87 million endowment. Harvard holds $425 for every $1 Whitworth possesses. The kinds of colleges that serve people of average means have still less. Appalachian State University has a $52 million endowment, Concordia University (Nebraska) has $28 million, Averett University has $24 million, Worcester State College has $12 million, to cite a few of many underfunded schools. Yet the rich keep giving to Harvard, Yale and Stanford, which already have too much. Give to underfunded schools where the donation might change someone’s life!

Not only does Harvard have way too much money, Harvard hoards the money. Most philanthropies are required to spend 5 percent per annum of their endowment, in order to retain tax-exempt status. Five percent of Harvard’s endowment is $1.9 billion per year: That’s enough for all Harvard undergrads and graduate students to attend absolutely free, with the school still having $1.3 billion to spend. Many Harvard students come from families that can afford to pay, and so they should. But across the top of education — the Ivies, Stanford, the top liberal arts colleges — a requirement of 5 percent annual endowment spending would enable practically any student below the level of upper-class family income to attend without charge. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont are among members of Congress pressing for legislation to require college and university endowments to spend 5 percent per year, or lose their tax exemptions. With the troubled economy threatening the ability of the middle class to send kids to college, the elite schools hoarding endowment billions is shameful. Also, it is a terrible example from institutions that boast about the examples they set.

Many of the rich keep giving to Harvard and Yale because their “gifts” are not gifts in the true sense — that is, transferred selflessly. Many “gifts” to Harvard and Yale are actually quite selfish, intended to boost the donor’s ego at the expense of the federal taxpayer, since the gift will be deducted. A million dollars would do far more good at Lake Erie College or Texas College than at Stanford or Princeton — but the ego payoff is at Stanford or Princeton. For that matter, the bang-for-the-buck of donations is 10 times higher in the developing world. Carroll Bogert, Harvard ’83, is among the founders of Harvard Alumni for Social Action, which is urging the school’s alums to stop giving to Harvard and give instead to African schools such as University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. There, a “gift” is really a gift, since it serves the poor rather than the donor’s ego.”

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About Alpine McGregor
Just like you, man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. All in the game, though, right?

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