Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Tim Burke Weighs in |
I haven't read it yet (just in from the beach; making lunch), but I want to link to it now.
Hokay, having eaten the French bread with melted cheese plus a side dish of strawberries and another one of cherry tomatoes that Mr. UD prepared, I've now read Tim Burke on endowments. He argues that the question isn't one of size at all, but rather the use made of all that money. But while use is obviously paramount, I believe size is a problem too.
There is something deeply unseemly - to the point of destructive - about a university accumulating tens of billions of dollars. A number of observers quoted in the 2001 New York Times article I reproduce a few posts down say this. They say variants of what Christopher Lasch once wrote:
"Luxury is morally repugnant, and its incompatibility with democratic ideals, moreover, has been consistently recognized in the traditions that shape our political culture. The difficulty of limiting the influence of wealth suggests that wealth itself needs to be limited. When money talks, everybody else is condemned to listen. For that reason, a democratic society cannot allow unlimited accumulation. Social and civic equality presuppose at least a rough approximation of economic equality."
It's particularly disgusting for universities, centers of free thought about the values, insights, and behaviors that matter most to a culture, to represent grasping money-making machines, as Harvard does to more and more people. The striking thing about Harvard University, the talked-about thing, the thing much more notable than its professors and its libraries (which, as Tim points out, aren't as impressive as you might think given all that cash), is a degree of wealth unmatched by many nations of the world. What sort of power fantasy is Harvard playing here? Why has it, in gaining wealth obscenely disproportionate to any other institution of higher learning in the world, and obscenely disproportionate to anything that Harvard University might need to maintain and improve itself, removed itself from the fellowship of universities?
As to what Harvard should do now that it's stuffed all that money up its ass -- Let me respond to Tim's criticism of one of my ideas for Harvard's self-dismantling:
What Tim misses here is that Florida Southern is also a college, like Harvard College. The money for the rebuilding of the Wright stuff (bad pun) is a symbolic as well as practical gesture. It's not only in a general sense about "the pleasure of future generations." Much more importantly, it is a gesture of confidence and generosity in regard to fellow institutions in need, from an institution so grotesquely over-endowed that it should feel morally compelled to use that endowment for the betterment of universities and colleges generally.