[Marxism] Alumni Group Tries to Elicit Social Action From Harvard

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jun 3 10:45:35 MDT 2008

NY Times, June 3, 2008
Alumni Group Tries to Elicit Social Action From Harvard

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 
tuition costs.

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 
embrace them.

“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 
old friends.

“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 
your class.”

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 
carry forward.

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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