University President Drew G. Faust began yesterday’s meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences with a 10-minute address on the effects that the recent downturn in the financial markets might have on Harvard.
The remarks, moved up to occupy the spot in the meeting agenda normally reserved for the business of the Dean of the Faculty, emphasized that, despite being the world’s wealthiest institution of higher education, Harvard would not make it through the downturn completely unscathed.
Faust added that resources are being allocated to cope with the situation.
“This University has survived revolutions, [a] civil war, downturns, and depressions, for more than 370 years, and our endowment enables us to pursue our ambitions over the long term with great consistency,” Faust said. “But the world is enveloped in a serious financial crisis, and we are not an exception.”
Speaking from her seat at the head of the Faculty Room, flanked by the deans of the College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Faculty, Faust offered a sobering view of the state of the University’s financial performance during the present downturn.
“Like all investments, our endowment has been touched—blown in some ways—hit by widespread losses across the world in investment values,” Faust said, while her colleagues at the head table, many of whom appeared amused at other points in the meeting, sat grim-faced.
Harvard’s endowment grew 8.6 percent during the year ending in June 2008, outpacing industry benchmarks, but financial data from the past few months—which have seen some of the most precipitous economic declines in decades—have not been made available.
Faust said that the primary concerns about the situation were that the financial aid needs of students whose families are challenged by the crisis might increase, and that the woes on Wall Street might depress fundraising.
Harvard has been eyeing 2011 for the beginning of its next capital campaign, but University officials have said that the date may be pushed back if financial difficulties hamper fundraising efforts.
Faust cited efforts to ensure loan access for international students in her discussion of the University’s response to the crisis. Graduating students facing employment searches in a troubled economy will benefit from bolstered career counseling, she also said.
“We need to be alert to what the impact of the financial situation might be on those around us, and we need to be ready to help,” Faust said, calling for increased communication between Faculty members and the University in the coming days.
Judith L. Ryan, a professor of German and comparative literature, said after the meeting that she believed the Faculty responded well to Faust’s message and that decline of the markets has resonated even in the ivory tower.
“I would hope that they’re reassured by the fact that we’re paying attention and that we have our eyes on the issues,” Faust said in a brief interview after the meeting.
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