I could fill this blog up with stories of obnoxious billionaires giving hundreds of millions of dollars to the Harvard Business School (Harvard endowment: $42 billion) to get their name on a building.

And indeed I have covered some of the most obnoxious; but let us consider more pleasant things. Curtis Institute, the school that educated the unearthly Yuja Wang, just got an anonymous $20 million donation.

Anonymous: How about that? And given so that the world can be more musical. How about that.

‘A correction was made on Jan. 4, 2024: An earlier version of this article misstated the size of Harvard’s endowment: It is $50 billion, not 500 million.’

An understandable error! Most people cannot comprehend/believe that one university’s endowment is over fifty billion dollars; and Harvard will be at one hundred billion before you know it, which will be that much harder to assimilate as a reality.

Even a New York Times opinion writer (plus, UD assumes, a bunch of editors who reviewed her column) finds herself rendering a reasonably large endowment as an amount in the hundreds of millions, rather than as an amount exceeding the GDP of 120 nations.

Here’s a simple trick to help you remember: Just repeat aloud ten times FIFTY BILL FIFTY BILL with a stress on the b.

‘[Harvard] could use some [of] the school’s $53 billion endowment to vastly reduce tuition, which is a barrier to many students. (By the way, how in the world do we permit an institution with that sort of accumulated wealth to declare itself a not-for-profit, tax-exempt entity?)’ 

A question we’ve asked for lo these many years on this blog.

‘The genuinely radical Ivy League option — spending their vast endowments to sharply increase student numbers — is unlikely to be entertained. The key to the Ivy League is exclusivity; a big expansion in intake would dilute that premium. We are thus likely to continue with a situation in which universities such as Harvard, with a $53bn endowment, or Princeton with $36bn, continue to get richer. Each of these fortunes could revolutionise financial aid at dozens of public universities.’

The second most radical option would be for the Ivy League to abolish what is called “ALDC” — athletics, legacy, dean’s list and children of faculty and staff. Forty-three per cent of Harvard’s intake come from one of these groups. The first, athletics, includes sports that can only be learned by the privileged, such as lacrosse, sailing and rowing. The generous athletics intake by universities is why so many recent admission corruption scandals, such as the FBI’s Varsity Blues sting operation, involved athletics directors. Contrary to popular opinion, most athletics scholars are not black basketball players. Sixty-five per cent are white. 

This is in the Financial Times, all of whose readers, one assumes, passionately disagree with these options.

And then there’s the author, Edward Luce himself!

Harvard: Keep your $36 billion endowment close and your sexual harassers closer.

Harvard University: Famous for holding tight to its stupendous endowment, and just as famous for holding tight to its sexual harassers.

‘Last year, Harvard’s dining service workers went on strike for several weeks before the university agreed to a modest pay increase and affordable health care. The richest university in the country, with an endowment of over $37 billion, agreed to raise dining service workers’ salaries by 3.5 percent only after a 22-day union strike.’

How d’ya think we got so rich, whippersnapper?

‘[B]ut, you know, if you look at something like Harvard and Yale, they have an endowment of a combined $60 billion. I mean, that’s an astronomical amount of money. And, in effect, by it being tax free, aren’t we the taxpayer subsidizing these elite universities that are hardly hurting for income? I mean, aren’t we all paying for it?’

Silly girl. “[T]he American people get a great bargain with these endowments.”

“At Yale … the endowment … grew to $27 billion in the 2017 fiscal year. Harvard’s endowment …stood at $37 billion. The size of some of the endowments suggests that they could weather a 1.4 percent tax on earnings.”


“Harvard University – a tax exempt organization – [has a] $36.4 billion endowment, a fund that grew – tax free – by 15% last year. Overall, Harvard reports about $36.4 billion in assets (even more than the NFL).”

And the NFL just gave up its tax exemption.

Just sayin’.

UD calls endowments like Harvard’s…

benddownments. As in bend down (I guess bend over would convey it better) and take it. We already have $32.3 billion, but you still have to pay almost $60,000 tuition and we’re going to dun you for huge donations for the rest of your life, even though

Student tuition at places like Harvard is now almost an afterthought. It runs on a budget of about $4.2 billion a year in spending. Tuition, fees, room and board at the full price of $58,607 for its 6,700 undergraduates would amount to $393 million, or less than 10 percent. And after taking need-based tuition reductions into account, the university collects only about half that projected total from undergrads. So for $200 million a year, Harvard could be totally free to all undergraduate students.

And does it sometimes run through your mind to wonder what just a few … afterthought expenditures from the tens of billions of dollars sitting in Harvard’s funds might do for the… uh… world? Well, shush. It’s all gonna be okay. You’re gonna grow up to be a hedge fund manager with the sort of ego that needs a biz school building at Harvard with your name on it much more than you need to help some obscure village full of suffering people. People who need schools or whatever. Relax.

UD’s post on Harvard’s endowment (see below) went viral…

… or whatever you call it when hundreds and hundreds of people link to something. I’m delighted. Reuters has also linked to the post.

More Commentary about Harvard’s Management of its Endowment

Besides the obvious question of why managers of a nonprofit educational institution were making hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps it’s time to ask if this is a rational way to actually fund higher education.

Dollars and Sense

As Harvard’s Endowment Bleeds Billions…

… a New York Times reporter interviews its latest money manager.

The writer describes a recent bit of history quite unfairly:

[Jack] Meyer racked up a stellar record running [Harvard’s] endowment, putting [its] returns second only to Yale’s. But complaints about the size of managers’ pay packages, relative to the academics’ pay, ultimately prompted Mr. Meyer and many of his acolytes to leave in 2005.

The people who protested the thirty million dollar a year salaries of Meyer and his boys were mainly alumni, not faculty. Their argument was not a comparative but an absolute one. No one human being should take away thirty million dollars a year from a job. The word they used was obscene, not relative.

This was not a pay equity case, with professors lusting after their own thirty million. This was a case of a group of alumni whose protest prevailed (Harvard management salaries have been lowered) as soon as the managers’ tens of millions hit the New York Times. Public outrage sealed the deal.


UPDATE: From Forbes.

Meyer built a Wall Street-like trading operation and managed most of HMC’s money in-house. It looked like a giant hedge fund, and it had paychecks to match. A high-level HMC manager would make as much as $35 million in good years. Those sums triggered what became an annual Harvard tradition: first, the disclosure (compelled by tax laws applying to nonprofits) of the HMC bonuses, followed by an outcry led by the late William Strauss and a group of Harvard alumni from his class of 1969.

What a tangled fuckup we weave, when first we practice to make a university a trading operation… Okay, UD‘s going to help Harvard out here.

Here’s what you do. Figure Meyer plus four other guys each took home … let’s low-ball it… twenty million dollars a year. So… 100 million altogether? Figure they did this for five years… Five years of that and you’re talking about a serious rainy-day fund.

So what you do is ask these people to return as much of this money as seems to them appropriate. No doubt, since they care more about Harvard than personal greed, these people have already approached the university asking what they can do. It’s just a matter of Harvard formalizing the process.

‘“Harvard is Harvard. It will come through this [slight downturn in fundraising] just fine,”[the director of Harvard’s Texas clubs] said.’

Praise the Lord. I’ve been looking at that endowment and really worrying. Where’s the next fifty billion coming from?

Writing 101 and the Harvard Corporation

 … Harvard, which compels its undergraduates to master expository writing in their freshman year, cannot find the language to defend itself [in its letter about Claudine Gray’s resignation]. The corporation does not apologize or explain. Instead, it throws up its hands in prayer: “May our community, with its long history of rising through change and through storm, find new ways to meet those challenges together, and to affirm Harvard’s commitment to generating knowledge, pursuing truth and contributing through scholarship and education to a better world.”

The clouds of mystification gather early. Can a nearly 400-year-old entity that began as a seminary for young Protestant men and grew into a global educational brand with a $50 billion endowment be said in any meaningful sense to constitute a community? The sentence then succumbs to a storm of clattering prose and conceptual incoherence. It’s hard to know just what or how many things Harvard is committed to, or what new ways of affirming that commitment might be found.

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