That was back in 2008, and you can measure how far this effort’s gotten by noting that you’ve never heard of this group but you are starting your morning by reading headlines all over America about the latest hedgie who can’t think of anything to do with $150 million other than feed it to “a $40 billion tax-free hedge fund with a very large marketing and PR arm called Harvard University that has the job of raising the investment capital and protecting the fund’s preferential tax treatment.”

Randy Cohen, the New York Times ethicist, patiently and earnestly lays out here why you should not give to massively over-endowed, massively stingy Harvard. Matthew Yglesias has been on a don’t give campaign for years. Brad DeLong, in a devastating comparison of Harvard and the University of California system, questions “the judgment of those who have tried to satisfy their charitable impulses by giving $15B to my alma mater over the past two generations.”

Gawker gawks. Jordan Weissmann titles a recent piece
Is Harvard So Rich That It Should Literally Be Illegal?

Robert Reich writes:

I see why a contribution to, say, the Salvation Army should be eligible for a charitable deduction. It helps the poor. But why, exactly, should a contribution to the already extraordinarily wealthy Guggenheim Museum or to Harvard University (which already has an endowment of more than $30 billion)?

Even the major news outlets busy panting about the latest hedgie’s hundreds of millions dedicated in significant part to business buildings with his name on them pause to wonder for a sentence or two…

With an endowment of more than $32 billion, the famed Cambridge, Massachusetts, school isn’t hurting for money and has been ramping up its financial aid in recent years.

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See, here’s what worries ol’ UD. With the wise words of Tom Perkins about an imminent American Kristallnacht still ringing in her ears, she asks: What will be our Bastille? We already know when it’s likely to occur: July 14, 2014. But where will the storming begin? What will be the epicenter of this violent populist revolt?

Maybe here.

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Update: Yglesias weighs in.

[W]hen it comes to these fancy universities the official endowment figures are a drastic understatement of the real wealth of the university. Harvard’s real-estate assets are mind-bogglingly valuable, for example, but not part of the endowment.

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5 Responses to ““A few hundred alumni have formed Harvard Alumni for Social Action, to try to channel 25th-reunion giving to destitute universities in Africa. In three years, we’ve raised $425,000 — a lot for the University of Dar es Salaam but hardly a match for our annual class ‘gift.’ And evidently not enough to win the respect of President Faust, who has begged off meeting the group. Harvard clearly doesn’t like any effort that might divert a dollar away from its Cambridge coffers.””

  1. Greg Says:

    This is what would be so difficult about being a Dean, even at my somewhat more modestly endowed school that is not yet itself a REIT. I put the bite on some one. They ask why shouldn’t I give, instead, to [name of your favorite children-oriented charity or anti-climate change group here] . . . aphasia.

    Between us, sorry you guys missed the supposed $2B in art — some rounding and optimism there. Meanwhile, will Ms. Greg* get to continue her jewelry making classes at the Corc. to take her mind, from time to time, off of adjuncting in another field?

    *Sobriquet pending approval from all concerned parties.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Greg: But it shouldn’t be that hard to make the case to give to schools truly modestly endowed, truly able to make a case. I’m not saying this means that people will actually give; but a reasonable case can often be made.

  3. Greg Says:

    Certainly this is complicated. A lot of people just never think systematically, or even a little carefully, about ranking alternatives within the set of things that they would like to, or feel that they should, do. Of course a little caprice and morally discretionary spending are some of the good good things in a lucky, complete life. But I — apparently like you — don’t get the huge donations to institutions already bubble bathing in money. Surely it is about ego and identification with “star” institutions.

  4. charlie Says:

    Nothing against African universities, but if the Hawvad alumni want to donate to destitute institutions, they can start with quite a number of U.S. community colleges, some of the directional universities, and the HBCU’s, which are, in some cases, third world in their fund deficits….

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    charlie: Agreed.

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