[Marxism] Alumni Group Tries to Elicit Social Action From Harvard
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Tue Jun 3 10:45:35 MDT 2008
NY Times, June 3, 2008
Alumni Group Tries to Elicit Social Action From Harvard
By STEPHANIE STROM
For three years, a handful of Harvard University alumni have waged a
quiet effort to persuade the university to expand its mission far beyond
its Cambridge campus, the students it educates there and the multitude
of research labs, libraries and other facilities available to them.
They call themselves Harvard Alumni for Social Action, or HASA, and
their goal is to prod the university to use its vast wealth, including
its $35 billion endowment, in unprecedented ways, like supporting
struggling colleges in Africa.
“There are large amounts of money being given to Harvard and other
wealthy universities every year by classes like ours, and they don’t
really need it,” said Jennifer Freeman, part of the HASA outreach
committee for the Class of 1983. “They should be thinking of new things
they could do with it, which would re-energize alumni and be good for
the university, too.”
Both Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s president, and her predecessor,
Lawrence H. Summers, have been unwilling to even discuss the proposals.
The development office, as fund-raising operations are known in the
charitable world, politely refuses to share its list of alumni,
frustrating HASA’s recruiting ability.
Tamara Rogers, vice president for university development at Harvard and
herself a member of the Class of 1981, said university policy, in an
effort to protect privacy, prohibited distribution of alumni lists. “It
is simply not our mission to provide direct financial support to
universities elsewhere in the world,” Ms. Rogers said. “It is part of
the mission to build capacity in universities throughout the world
through our research and education.”
Ms. Rogers said the university already touched Africa and the rest of
the world in myriad ways. All told, a spokesman said, Harvard has 68
centers and programs with work related to Africa and offers 125 classes
about the continent.
HASA reflects the growing debate over university endowments and whether
their continued accumulation of assets — Harvard is expected to have
$100 billion at the end of the next 10 years — serves a charitable purpose.
“This is a healthy discussion for universities and donors to have,” said
Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who has been urging
wealthy universities to spend more of their endowments to combat rising
HASA was started by Paula Tavrow, a professor at the School of Public
Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, after she started
getting calls from Harvard in 2005 soliciting a gift in honor of her
25th reunion the next year.
Ms. Tavrow got a firsthand look at the plight of African universities
when she worked at the University of Malawi in the early 1990s. At that
time, a drought meant the university had no water. The library had no
working photocopier, and a professor was lending students his own books
because otherwise they could not do the required reading.
Ms. Tavrow began contacting classmates, and they began trying to
persuade the class gift officers, the alumni designated as fund-raisers
for each class, to embrace the notion of redirecting reunion
contributions to Africa.
That idea was rejected by the gift officers and the university, as were
other suggestions from the group that was gradually coalescing into HASA.
The university finally agreed to create a fund to underwrite fellowships
for African graduate students seeking to study at the School of Arts and
Sciences at Harvard, but only after Marco Elser, a 1981 graduate, agreed
to pledge $250,000 over three years to get it started.
“It was a proverbial hole in the water,” Mr. Elser said in a telephone
interview from Rome, where he lives. “Harvard got the money and made no
effort at all to promote the concept to other classes and begin
educating them about how they could direct their reunion gifts. I was
very, very disappointed, needless to say.”
Not entirely, though. His initial goal was to increase the number of
alumni from the Class of 1981 contributing to the reunion gift, and in
fact the class broke the record for 25th-reunion fund-raising and
participation, attracting $41 million from 75.8 percent of the class,
Ms. Rogers said. About $300,000 went to the fellowships.
HASA members say that result alone is a good reason for Harvard to
“According to messages we got, HASA was a primary force in encouraging
people who had never given to Harvard before and some who had never even
bothered to come to a reunion before to do so,” said Claire Mays
Poumadère, a HASA organizer from the Class of 1981. “It created this
incredible glue months before the reunion and gave class members a real
sense of cohesion.”
The effort has attracted at least one of Harvard’s biggest donors,
Sumner L. Feldberg, who made a fortune in retailing. He gave $1,000 to
HASA after he was contacted by Ms. Poumadère, the daughter of one of his
“This approach should be brought to the attention of all future major
reunion classes,” Mr. Feldberg wrote then. “Selecting a worthwhile
outside cause to aid would be electrifying for them as it has been for
Like Ms. Rogers, however, he noted that direct gifts to Harvard also
ended up benefiting Africa.
It is unclear that the enthusiasm generated among the Class of 1981 will
Interest jumped, HASA members say, after an opinion article that
mentioned the group ran in The New York Times in May.
For now, though, HASA must be content with the scholarship fund, which
holds $331,000, and a fund to support the University of Dar es Salaam in
Tanzania, which is administered by the Human Rights Education
Association. Gifts to that fund are not counted as gifts to Harvard.
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