HARVARD LEVELS OFF
Rome was not built in a day, but President Conant shows in his Annual Report that Harvard practically was. He outlines a history in which quiet periods of snail-paced growth alternate with violent outbursts of expansion, a history so uniquely American that it should be called a career rather than a development. The Harvard of today, with its capital of 143 million of dollars and its population of 8000, has sprung up within the last 90 years, though its name has been honored for over three centuries. Bur about ten years ago this rate of growth suddenly began to fall, a fact bound to produce many a knotty problem of policy. President Conant has taken note of the common origin of these problems, and has offered some tentative gropings for a solution.
The ghost of financial stagnation first cast its shadow over Harvard in the first years of the Thirties. Since then the depreciation of its capital holdings and a steadily falling interest rate have curtailed its income seriously, as it has that of all investors; its primary concern has become conservation rather than expansion. This shrinkage has of course been a world-wide process, affecting not only universities, but business and government, in fact, the entire economic structure. Still, endowments continued to trickle in, and in the course of New Deal recovery even rose of half the pre-depression figure. But the tendency of the decade was clearly to freeze in the investor.
Although Mr. Conant has fully recognized this problem, his recommendations are vague: "Although we live in a world whose whole future seems uncertain, we must engage in long-range planning. . . . We cannot leave the future to take care of itself." Naturally Harvard must be as foresighted as possible, and not mistake the stagnant Forties for the roaring Twenties. But if "long-range planning" as envisaged by Mr. Conant involves any retardation of Harvard's present educational progress, it defeats its own purpose. For the quantity of endowments a university receives depends not only on economic conditions, but also on its educational prestige. Thus any move which compromises Harvard's academic leadership will in the long run tend to make Harvard less attractive to the givers of endowments.
Even in periods of depression a progressive university will be heavily endowed; Chicago, for instance, took in no less than eight million dollars last year. As long as there is private wealth, there will always be men who are willing to give money to a university--provided it is worth it. Before drastically "adjusting" its academic standing to its diminishing income. Harvard can still ask its benefactors to permit immediate expenditure of current gifts. But the fact remains that it is only be continuing to be worthy of new endowments that Harvard can assure itself of a prosperous future.