Students are well aware that their year at Harvard costs them a precious $34,350. It's hard to tell, though, where all that money goes on its way to making a difference in their lives.
Last October, the University announced that it had exceeded its $2.3 billion Capital Campaign goal, bringing Harvard's endowment to an unprecedented $14.4 billion. That money has helped fund everything from new wiring in Widener Library to an extra 60 feet of Memorial Hall.
But while the evidence of Harvard's wealth is all around, it can be difficult sometimes for undergraduates and faculty to see how these funds improves students' daily lives, with one department chair telling The Crimson that he sometimes does not have enough money to meet students' needs.
Clever budgeting, says Roderick L. MacFarquhar, chair of the Government Department, helps him extend his small piece of Harvard's billions.
"Harvard is a rich place, but it's not limitlessly rich," MacFarquhar says. "One of the ways it stays solvent is by taking good care of its money.
"We get a budget," he says, "and we work within it."
That's the lesson Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies Diana L. Eck has learned after two years as the Master of Lowell House.
For the 2000 fiscal year, the Lowell Masters received $168,094 for their personal budget. That amount is meant to pay for everything from administrative salaries and office supplies to napkins for weekly teas. It can be a challenge to make the money stretch that far.
Easily the biggest expense is the Senior Common Room, which numbers more than 170 faculty members, visiting scholars and tutors. All of them are permitted to eat in the dining hall on a regular basis, courtesy of Lowell House.
"If you go to a House with a less active Senior Common Room you're likely to find more lavish hors d'oeuvres for junior parents weekend," Eck says.
She does not want to cut back on faculty affiliates, since they provide a unique opportunity for faculty-student interaction. But by the end of last year, she worried that "we'd have to feed the parents Saltines at Commencement."
Lowell residents agree that the Senior Common Room is worthwhile.
"It's great to get advice at dinner and lunch," says Fiona S. Graff '02. "The Senior Common Room members that we're paired up with, they sit down and give us advice on classes and concentrations."
Eck pulled it off this year. But she wishes there were more money for House needs.
"It shouldn't be such a big financial issue," she says. "In our first year we've been able to get the kinds of changes we want, but with a larger budget specifically targeted for faculty-student relations the Houses could flourish even more.
"We shouldn't have to look at the list of tutors and faculty who eat here and wonder if we'll come in under budget."
But there aren't unlimited funds for improvements. And Eck says that by the end of the school year she finds herself scrimping to make ends meet or to tackle new projects.
The junior common room, for instance.
"It's sort of pathetic," she says confidentially of the traditional Georgian room. "It doesn't feel really homey--it needs a warmer feel to it."
Eck wants to make sure students feel comfortable just hanging out in the cavernous and dark JCR. Fortunately, Harvard has a budget to let her do just that.
House committees, in conjunction with Masters, can apply for money for larger projects that can improve house life. Eck wants to add more comfortable furniture and cheerful decorations.
"I think we'll get some money in our budget to do that," she says.
That's how Lowell got a new student-kitchen over the summer. When she came to Lowell, Eck says the kitchen was in disrepair--"It was sort of a makeshift thing that you might make in your basement when you're a kid."
Students agreed that the kitchen was a mess. House committee members approached her about making the changes.
"It was a very easy process," says Matthew F. Delmont '00, co-chair of the Lowell House committee. "The Masters were very willing to discuss that."
The superintendent's office granted Lowell $25,000 to knock down a wall between two adjoining rooms, build a brand-new kitchen and stock it with pots, pans and cooking supplies.
Delmont credits the House committee's targeted proposal and the assistance of Eck and Co-Master Dorothy A. Austin.
Do most students know that it's that easy to make changes in the House?
"[Students] know that the House committee had a large role to play," Delmont says. "But it is difficult to understand that these things don't just miraculously happen."
The most obvious way departments can invest in students is by hiring more teachers. Students complain about the size of their classes and the lack of advising at Harvard.
But new full faculty positions are extremely rare--at $3.5 million each, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences still hasn't managed to attract enough donors to reach the goal of 40 that it set for the capital campaign. When the fruits of the campaign are distributed, even large departments like the government department can only expect one or two new positions at most.
"When you get a position that's serious stuff--it's forever," says MacFarquhar, who is also Williams professor of history and political science.
So what happens when students' academic interests shift over time? Departments can't just add tenured professors at will.
"You have to make a choice: Maybe when Y retires you won't replace Y and get an X instead," MacFarquhar says.
But that kind of change is slow and gradual. In the meantime, departments have to hire visiting faculty--or just forgo classes. That's been the case in the department's American subfield, concentrators say.
"It's definitely been a problem," says Anna B. Benvenutti '00. "It's a little bit better now than in the past, but I took almost no classes in American government the whole time I've been here and that's supposed to be my area of concentration."
Department administrators acknowledge this hole in the government program.
"It is no secret that there has been a significant and unfortunate gap between the courses in American politics that our concentrators would like to take and the courses available from our regular faculty," the department's head tutor, Associate Professor Louise M. Richardson, wrote in an e-mail message.
Still, government concentrators are sure to benefit from another future addition to the department, funded through the fruits of the campaign. In August 2003, the Knafel Center for International Studies is slated to open on Cambridge Street.
For the first time, government professors and the department's undergraduate office will be housed in the same building.
"The undergraduate program will be able to deal on a one-to-one basis with faculty members," MacFarquhar says.
The Knafel Center still has to clear several city committees before Harvard gets the go-ahead to build. In the meantime, MacFarquhar says students should be patient: The department's needs are the same as their own.
"What students want is obviously very important, but it should not be thought that we ourselves are not aware of the deficiencies," he says.
When students have requests, the department listens, even though it might not be able to act, according to MacFarquhar.
"Undergraduates make their feelings known to the [head] tutor," he says, "and it gets to the chair very quickly."