A Run for Your Money


You probably like Harvard. And now that you're graduating in a couple of weeks, you want to show your appreciation in same way. Perhaps you'll help out and give small (let's say $25) donation to the 1984 Senior Class Gift.

So an acquaintance in your House calls you and comes over to talk about the Senior Class Gift. But then someone else tells you about Endowment for Divestiture (E4D), about how giving to E4D will make Harvard a better place because it will help Harvard divest its stocks in companies dealing with the racist South African government.

But then the "Class Gift Agent" tells you that President Bok opposes Endowment for Divestiture. The Agent also says that you can give money to both if you want. Now, you are thoroughly confused.

WITH ITS over two-and-a-half billion dollar endowment and $350 million Harvard Campaign worrisomely slowing down. Harvard is not too big to pay attention to its senior graduating class each year, which, when the hat has been passed, contributes only about $20,000.

Why does Harvard put so much energy (as we will see) into generating this piddling amount? Why are pledges to the Senior Class Gift due before the bursar's card expires? A token show of financial appreciation forges the Crimson bond of the future. A senior who gives on his way out the gate, is more likely than one who does not to feel part of the University and to give to Harvard in the future. It's like voting: those who have done so in the past do so at a higher rate in the future.

And alumni contributions are indeed important to the financial health of the University. Not only do they keep tuition bills 'low', but they keep libraries full of books and laboratories full of equipment and lab assistants. These amenities, along with relatively high senior faculty salaries, are what attract some of the best academic minds in the world.

The key to keeping Harvard at the top, then, is alumni giving, which begins in the socialization process at the end of senior year, when students are solicited for the first time. The whole process starts with the election of the senior Marshals and the Class Committee under the auspices of Wadsworth House (the Alumni Association). Though they have no jurisdiction over the Class Gift drive--which is handled by a separate Harvard organization, the Harvard-Radcliffe Fund--they choose the senior Class Gift co-chairmen.

The co-chairmen are responsible for working with the Harvard-Radcliffe Fund in Holvoke Center and getting the Class Gift machinery humming. They choose regional gift captains, each in charge of a couple of Houses; then there are two gift co-captains for each House: and finally there are the many class agents in each house who do the bulk of the soliciting. For all these people there are special activities: a kick-off dinner at the Boston Harvard Club; during the drive there are progress parties where agents can discuss their progress and their problems; and at the end there is a big party at the Penthouse Suite at Holyoke Center. As one participant says, "there's a lot of incentive for net very much work." In fact, each agent only solicits 8-10 people. It seems the idea is not only to get people used to giving, but also used to asking: there are over 200 senior class members involved.

Agents make it easy as possible for seniors to give: most seniors are asked for $25. They are solicited, when possible, by friends. They are told that the money can be paid in September if need be. They can check off "scholarship fund" if they do not want to give to the "general fund." And finally, seniors can give less than $25, as a final resort, down to a ridiculously low figure. All this is done to raise the participation rate--the percentage of seniors who contribute, not necessarily the absolute amount collected. This year's goal is 84 percent; and the House with the highest rate will receive a free champagne toast.

BUT NOT ALL SENIORS are treated the same way. The Class Committee officially connected with Wadsworth House was asked to come to Holyoke Center one night, where they were given computer lists of the entire class. They were asked to indicate those they think are capable of giving more than $25--that is, seniors with money. These seniors are put on another list, handled by a special subcommittee, who contact these "special givers" earlier and ask for more money--at least $100.

The issue behind the Class Gift relates to the connection between Wadsworth House, the Harvard-Radcliffe Fund, and the Class Committee elected by the senior class. It is appalling that elected student representatives go through lists of fellow-students marking off those who are good workers and those who have a lot of money. Would Wadsworth House allow the Class Committee to extend this service to E4D as well, or make the information public?

Now Endowment for Divestiture does not scare Harvard because it diverts money from the University--E4D received only about seven or eight grand last year, chickenfeed in a Harvard ledger. The problem is that Harvard sees E4D as threatening the whole socialization process by which Harvard ties alumni into specific class years, each with the specific task of raising as much money as possible. The drop of the Senior Gift participation rate--the percentage of seniors giving to the Class Gift--was over twenty points last year. That was the first year E4D got off the ground, and Harvard can only be fearful of a bigger drop this year.

E4D is set up as part of the Undergraduate Council's charter as a fund that will hold contributions until Harvard divests of stock in South Africa. If Harvard has not done so in twenty years, or if the United Nations overturns its special condemnation of South Africa (which would probably mean that South Africa has struck down apartheid), the money will to to Harvard charities like the Phillips Brooks House, Room 13, Response, and so on.

Some objections to E4D are serious and thoughtful. One is that, while divestiture might be a good thing. E4D is not an effective means. True, E4D by itself would probably not change the world, but, it plays an important part in diversifying the tactics--and thus strengthening--the widespread and vocal divestiture movement. Furthermore, if E4D was not effective, than the University would not be as scared as it apparently is.

AND THE INDICATION is that Harvard is misrepresenting the E4D and actively working against it. Two weeks before discussion of the issue by the Class Committee, Harvard sent committee members anti-Divestiture and anti-E4D literature--including the attack on E4D Bok published in the Gazette last year, which is also being used as educational material for class agents. And according to a Class Committee member, Harvard officials gave the Committee the impression that E4D is full of Harvard-haters, and that by endorsing it the Class Committee would only be stabbing Harvard in the back their senior year. "They are not just trying to avoid the issue," one member said, "but they are maliciously trying to say 'look how bad E4D is.'"

Part of the University's attempt to end-run around E4D lies in its ability not only simply to misrepresent E4D but also to manipulate--as can be seen in the experience of this year's Senior Class Committee.

Some members decided that E4D should be an alternative to the Class Gift--a check-off option printed on the official pledge cards. By only offering the Class Gift on the pledge card, many thought that they were "legislating a morality." They felt the decision instead should be left to the conscience of the individual senior.

After some discussion, though, the representative of the Harvard-Radcliffe Fund laid down the Law: Harvard University would not allow E4D to be printed on its pledge cards. E4D was disapproved of by President Bok, and the representatives said that the H-R Fund could not go against his policy.

The Class Gift, the members discovered, is in no way under the auspices of students, but of Holyoke Center. The Class Committee then wrote up a neutral informational letter, explaining to seniors that both E4D and the Class gift would be soliciting this spring. The original draft, however, called E4D a "gift, a technical term that university officials refused to print on official Harvard Senior Class Committee stationary (though they said the Class Committee could do so on stationary the Committee pays for itself). Although the word is not significant, the incident reveals the repeated misrepresentation of E4D by Harvard. Central to E4D's conception is that it is a gift to Harvard, and one more valuable than a mere financial contribution.

BOK'S OBJECTIONS to E4D are indeed interesting. He argues first that economic power is not an appropriate way to influence University decisions. Yet, one wonders, what is an "appropriate" means? Both has set up a committee, which does not include a single Black, to look into the ethical issues of Harvard investments, and advise the Corporation. Bok appoints the committee members himself, but does not always follow their advice. And when he says he will accept their decision, for example, about the meaningless Sullivan code-of-corporation behavior in South Africa, he lies and the University maintains investments in companies which fail to sign the Sullivan principles. Where is democracy--or even an "appropriate" means--in this situation.' For Bok to come out and define "appropriate" to be those methods which he has insured to be ineffective is manipulatory. Democracy instead resides in E4D, where students who have no vote in the Corporation are able to manifest their desire for a better Harvard in relatively small monetary terms.

Bok's other argument is that a contribution to the University must be positive--not a negative sanction of withholding money unless all one's conditions are met. Bok, and his administrators, simply fail to see that E4D is positive. The people who give to E4D are not Harvard-haters. Quite the opposite. They want the best Harvard possible, and they are saying--in the tradition of Thoreau--"I cannot in good conscience give money to an institution that has financial dealings with companies that profit from apartheid."

Well, says Harvard, we understand you may have some (misguided) understanding of the world which prevents you from contributing to Harvard--perhaps a simplistic application of a Moral Reasoning course. But look, you can make your contribution specifically to the "scholarship fund."

The problem here is that much of Harvard's money is tied together--at least within the budget of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which helps finance financial aid. The more that students give to the scholarship funds, the less of the "general fund" Harvard has to divert there to meet that year's need. Practically, offering the "scholarship fund" is a meaningless ploy.

If all else fails, Harvard's last argument is that E4D and the Class Gift are not mutually exclusive: can't you just give a couple of dollars to Harvard, while giving most of it to E4D? Of course, this is the most telling line. Harvard does not really care about how much you give (except if you are designated a "special giver"). What Harvard cares about is that you give at least something to the class gift.

Many students probably agree with President Bok that the privilege of a Harvard education entails a responsibility to the Harvard community. But this responsibility must be shaped by values that are taught in the classrooms. While President Bok must necessarily be concerned about the volatile worth of Harvard's endowment, this should not be our prime concern.

The objections to E4D are largely obfuscations--E4D is indeed, effective, valid, and appropriate. Furthermore, E4D provokes University opposition because it is seen as a financial threat, which is also ultimately the reason behind the University's intransigence to divestiture. As Thoreau wrote, "Absolutely speaking, the more money, the less virtue...It puts to rest many questions which he would otherwise be taxed to answer...Thus his moral ground is taken from under his feet."