In the last two years, but ten percent of the gifts Harvard has received have been unrestricted grants which the University may use as it sees fit. Moreover, the percentage of such gifts shows a declining trend. This is in spite of the fact that many of President Conant's speeches and reports have echoed eloquently the plea for fluid funds. Either because Harvard's benefactors are of an unimpressionable nature, or because they fail to read the President's speeches, the University finds itself tied and thwarted on every hand, with its efficiency gravely impaired.
That the University is a better judge of the proper allocation of monies than are donors is too obvious a point to be labored. Mr. Conant can invoke more specific arguments. Gifts for stated purposes, although rarely refused, have in the past been sources of positive embarrassment to the University. There have been lecture series, even professorships, which involved questionable and unnecessary attacks upon popular institutions, even upon religions. Negatively equivalent to this is the fact that restricted grants have frequently supported eminently useless projects. Arising, perhaps, from vital controversies in the eighteenth century, these later became unique for their insignificance, yet had to be perpetuated. Wealth means little to Harvard when devoted to such ends.
More cogent an argument is the necessity for fluid funds if the University is to play its rightful part in the advance of education and learning. Unhampered as they are by dependence on the grants of penny-wise legislatures, endowed institutions are better fitted to experiment and introduce educational innovations than their public counterparts. Significant experiments such as the tutorial system or the National Scholarship plan could never have originated in state universities, subject as they are to budget-balancing governors. Moreover, only an institution like Harvard is capable of extensively promoting research of a non-utilitarian character, the ultimate values of which may not be appreciated by the constituency of a vote-seeking politician.
True it is that the responsibilities created by such restricted endowments as the Nieman bequest and the Littauer grant have pointed the way to new and important educational projects. But these are definitely exceptions. As a general rule, the professional educators who constitute the university administration are the only truly capable authorities to decide the proper direction for experimentation and innovation. And if she is to remain in the van of the collegiate array, Harvard must have fluid funds to dispose of as she sees fit.