Sharing The Castle's Riches

Financing Student Activities: The Lampoon As Philanthropist

The Undergraduate Council this year became the first student group at Harvard officially charged with doling out grants to student groups, but another undergraduate organization has in recent years been quietly providing the same service. The Harvard Lampoon, known for its humor and parody publications, donates $15,000 a year to the College for the use of other organizations.

For the past three years, the Lampoon has given that sum--earmarked for "artistic events"--to Archie C. Epps III, dean of students, says M.Kent Karlock '84, treasurer of the Lampoon. And since the Lampoon's centennial in 1976, the group has contributed as much as $60,000 annually.

The money consists of a $1000 package for each House, and an additional $2000 to be distributed to undergraduate organizations at Epp's discretion. "Since we had the funds, we thought it would be fitting to give it to some of our sister organizations," says Charles A. Rheault Jr. '45, a former member of the Lampoon Board of Trustees. "The idea was not for us to play the part of a Lady Bountiful."

Karlock, too, emphasizes the "good will" nature of the donations, saying, "we thought it was a nice thing to do." "People know we're making a lot of money for work we don't do," he adds. "We get calls all the time from people asking for money."

The principal source of that money is the fantastically successful National Lampoon, which pays royalties each year to the Harvard magazine for the right to call itself "Lampoon." Staffed by former Lampoon members, the commercial publication considers Harvard's Lampoon its conceptual mother; three former editors started the publication over a decade ago.

Rheault, a Lampoon trustee for the past 20 years, recalls that when the three 'Poonsters made their offer, the Board of Trustees voiced skepticism about the project. "We figured it couldn't hurt, and then two or three years later the money started flowing in," he says, noting that the Harvard organization has received particularly large royalties--computed on a percentage basis--in recent years because of the success of the National Lampoon-produced movie Animal House.

"Animal House was wonderful while it lasted, and we got a big chunk of that, "Rheault says. He expresses concern, however, for the continued profitability of the organization, noting "we have some severe doubts about how long the royalties we get from the National Lampoon will continue Humor magazines don't go on forever."

Rheault says the National Lampoon royalties have dwindled considerably in the last few years, and are now "less than half" of what the Harvard organization received in the heyday of the Animal House period.

The Lampoon also makes money from its parodies of popular magazines like Newsweek and People; according to Rheault, a spoof of the Tolkien Ring trilogy, Bored of the Rings, still generates large royalties almost 15 years after it came out. In addition, the Lampoon has a separate endowment, administered by the group's board of trustees, which in 1981 declared income of almost $20,000 and assets of nearly $200,000. Karlock notes, however, that the Lampoon incurs considerable expense in subsidizing the regular issues of the magazine, as well as maintaining its nearly three-quarters-of-a-century-old building, the Lampoon Castle.

Despite these expenses, the Lampoon is still an extremely profitable non-profit organization declaring income of over $200,000 and assets of almost half a million dollars in 1980 for example. In fact, without such generous donations as those given annually to the College, the magazine could lose its tax-exempt, non-profit status.

To avoid losing this status, the trustees of the Lampoon met in 1976 with President Bok to discuss contributing funds to the University. That year, the Lampoon gave $60,000 as "an outright gift," Rheault says. Although legally the University can do whatever it wants with the money. Epps has faithfully followed the Lampoon's suggestions regarding who should receive grants evaluating proposals received from the Houses on the basis of their "artistic and cultural" merit.

Although Epps has not yet turned down a project proposal, he has that option if he wishes. "The only thing I'm concerned about is that the project fit the specifications," he says. Houses have received money to produce plays, present concerts and poetry readings, pay royalties for the production of recent plays or buy lighting equipment. House committees consider residents suggestions, choose one and submit it to Epps.

At times, Lampoon members have felt that Epps is somewhat strict in determining what student organizations deserve Lampoon money. "He tried to follow our mandate a little more closely than we thought necessary," Karlock says. "If the money is there, the Houses will probably think of something to do with it. If not, they'll have parties, and that's fine with us."

Epps receives another $2000 beyond the $1000 reserved for each House, which he distributes to various cultural or artistic undergraduate endeavors. In the past, he has awarded grants to the Harvard Advocate. Padam Aram (an undergraduate literary magazine), the Ballet Folklorico (a Mexican dance group), the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, and the Japanese Culture Society.

Epps calls the Lampoon's donations "an extraordinary example of the philanthropic spirit because it's from student to student." Before the appearance of the student council funds, it was the only source of money for independent activities, he observes. "It has allowed Houses and organizations to do things they might otherwise not be able to do."

Despite the relative decline in Lampoon income, Rheault is optimistic that Epps will be able to distribute funds for at least a while longer, saying. "it seems for the immediate, foreseeable future, we'll be able to continue."