University Considers Fundraising Campaign

Harvard is considering a University-wide capital campaign targeted at a number of President Lawrence H. Summers’ top priorities—including improvements to undergraduate education, programs emphasizing public service, new initiatives studying life sciences and the development of a campus in Allston.

A formal campaign is not yet a certainty and the state of the economy will have a major impact on whether to go forward, but according to Provost Steven E. Hyman, the administration has begun vetting possible campaign strategies and priorities with donors, deans and the University’s governing boards.

These groups have discussed “conceptual models” for a fundraising drive, Hyman says, and have agreed about the need for a centrally coordinated campaign aimed at a hand-picked set of objectives for the University.

And while specific objectives have yet to be decided, Hyman says, donors and University leaders have expressed support for the priorities Summers has developed since his arrival, and have indicated a willingness to work to fund them.

When asked about a campaign, Summers will only say that “the University is neither in, nor planning for a capital campaign.”

Summers has reason to be cautious. Fears abound about the effect of the poor economy on philanthropy, forcing schools at Harvard and other universities to adjust fundraising plans.

Discussions about a campaign also come only three years after the completion of the $2.6 billion University-wide campaign that stretched through most of the 1990s.

At the time of former President Neil L. Rudenstine’s retirement, administrators and faculty said that his extensive fundraising efforts meant that his successor would be able to avoid having to run a campaign early in his tenure.

Yet Summers is at least considering a campaign after little more than a year on the job.

As a result, donor fatigue is an issue, officials say. Perhaps to avoid that problem, the Corporation and donors on the Committee on University Resources (COUR) rejected a sweeping campaign in the mold of the last one in favor of the targeted approach.

Academic Plans

Summers says any fundraising he does would not detract from his ability to be a hands-on academic leader.

“I think I’ve been able to meet quite widely with the University’s alumni community over the last year while also being actively involved with many different issues on campus,” he says.

Unlike Rudenstine’s campaign, which was largely an amalgamation of the individual schools’ priorities, the campaign being considered would directly reflect Summers’ academic vision for the University.

Academic planning is gearing up at Summers’ behest in several areas that will ultimately determine the needs a campaign would address.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) is about to embark on its first curricular review in a quarter of a century. That process, Summers says, will identify new needs and will likely reaffirm the expensive expansion of the Faculty as a goal.

Summers and others in the central administration are working with the schools on initiatives designed to encourage public service. They are looking at improving graduate student financial aid in ways that would make careers in the public section more accessible—requiring millions of dollars in the long-term.

Another possible target of a campaign for public service, Hyman says, is the Graduate School of Education (GSE).

Summers has promised funds to the new GSE Dean Ellen Condliffe Lagemann and announced that under her direction the school would turn toward the problems of the American public school system.

“I think everyone acknowledges there are needs at the Education School,” Hyman says. More concrete planning will begin once Lagemann “catches her breath,” he says.

Officials from the Medical School, FAS and the School of Public Health are beginning discussions about how new resources could better integrate and expand biomedical research done at the University.

Meanwhile the central administration is working toward a possible decision this summer on the shape of a future campus in Allston. While much is uncertain about the timetable and logistics of this development project, those involved say it could eventually cost billions of dollars.

As of a result of this uncertainty, Allston might or might not be an objective of the possible capital campaign.

Hyman says these academic planning efforts exist separately from fundraising planning, but acknowledges that they are connected.

“We would not engage the faculty in academic planning if the COUR, the Overseers and Corporation were against a substantial fundraising effort at this point,” Hyman says.

Central Planning

The concept of a targeted, University-wide campaign was actually one of three discussed with the deans, Corporation and COUR. In addition to the across-the-board campaign mirroring Rudenstine’s effort, the option of letting the schools conduct their own campaigns was considered.

Two schools—the Law School and Business School—have already embarked on campaigns, and when discussions began last year, the Medical School was considering a campaign as well.

But the decentralized model, Hyman says, has met with little enthusiasm and has essentially been discarded. While the Law School and Business School will continue with their campaigns, FAS and other schools are not likely to follow in their paths.

Hyman says the campaign model that COUR and other leaders have “converged on” would be a middle ground.

It would be coordinated through and run by the central University Development Office. Donors would be shared among schools and, as is already occurring, priorities would be determined on a University-wide basis.

Hyman explains that this model fits the nature of Summers’ goals.

The life sciences naturally cut across the traditional boundaries of schools. Neither GSE nor other schools with a tilt toward public service have wealthy enough alums to fundraise on the scale desired. FAS has a pool of wealthy donors—who would likely be solicited for all the goals—but would stand to benefit from coordination with other schools as well, Hyman says.

“The important thing is that if we all work together we can set bigger and more exciting intellectual goals,” he says.

In focusing on a centrally coordinated campaign, Summers’ administration is also keeping with attempts to break down barriers between the fiercely autonomous schools—which in the past largely managed their own budgets, set their own policies and, save for the last University-wide campaign, handled their own fundraising.

At his inauguration last fall, Summers said that “real and ultimate success will come only...when each of us in a single part of the University is genuinely part of Harvard University as a whole.”

With a new budgetary review process, Hyman has increased oversight of the schools’ spending and academic priorities.

Now Summers is moving on fundraising as well. Planning was too advanced at the Law School and Business School to reconsider their separate campaigns, Hyman says.

“Basically, you don’t come in and, for some abstract idea, quash ongoing campaigns that are already showing signs of success,” he says.

But at the other schools, the principle of coordination will hold.

—Staff writer David H. Gellis can be reached at gellis@fas.harvard.edu.