Hard Times at Harvard

By | July 23, 2009

Hard Times at Harvard

Only a year ago, Harvard had a $36.9 billion endowment, the largest in academia. Now that endowment has imploded, and the university faces the worst financial crisis in its 373-year history. Could the same lethal mix of uncurbed expansion, colossal debt, arrogance, and mismanagement that ravaged Wall Street bring down America’s most famous university? And how much of the turmoil is the fault of former Harvard president Larry Summers, now a top economic adviser to President Obama? As students demonstrate, administrators impose Draconian cuts, and construction is halted on an over-ambitious $1.2 billion science complex…

Radical change is coming to Harvard. Fewer professors, for one thing. Fewer teaching assistants, janitors, and support staff. Shuttered libraries. Less money for research and travel and books. Cafés replaced by vending machines. Junior-varsity sports teams downgraded to clubs. No raises. No bonuses. No fresh coats of paint or new carpets. Overflowing trash cans.

The recession has been hard on most Americans. We know that. At Harvard, however, adjusting to the end of the gilded age, the champagne age, is proving especially wrenching: the university’s endowment has collapsed, donations are down, budgets are overstretched. …  All across campus, one after another, new academic buildings have shot up. The price of these optimistic new projects: a breathtaking $4.3 billion.  …

. It can’t be easy to be charged with cost-cutting at a university that refuses to use the term “cost-cutting†and instead goes on about “alignments†and “resizements.   “The hope was that the endowment would continue to increase, and we could get some support from our alumni base to help pay for those changes in the program.â€

He paused. “And then, of course, the bottom fell out of the market.â€

via Nina Munk on Hard Times at Harvard | vanityfair.com.

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