Bill Aims To Increase Financial Transparency

A bill filed today by two Massachusetts state legislators could require Harvard University to publicly disclose more detailed financial reports, including property and investment values.

The bill seeks to increase the transparency of private colleges and universities in the wake of serious endowment losses during the recent recession.

Harvard, which suffered an almost 30 percent loss of its endowment during the crisis, was forced to make significant budget cuts which led to layoffs and the suspension of construction underway in Allston.

This bill was sponsored by state Senator Patricia D. Jehlen of Somerville and Representative Michael J. Moran of Brighton, who are both Democrats.

According to the language of the bill, schools with investments or property valued at more than $10 million must report the value of their assets starting in 2013.

Harvard will also be required to list all federal, state, and local taxes from which it is tax-exempt.

According to Harvard University spokesperson John D. Longbrake, the University is currently reviewing this bill as well as others filed yesterday, particularly those relating to higher education and research institutions.

“[We] look forward to working with Representative Moran and others as the legislative process unfolds in the coming months,” Longbrake wrote in an e-mail.

The bill would also require colleges and universities to reveal details about their contracts with outside companies and about individual employees’ salaries.

For example, Harvard would have to report all the salaries and names of employees or consultants who are paid more than $250,000.

Service providers who are paid $150,000 or more must also be disclosed, along with any donations made by that company.

The bill also seeks to shed light on any conflicts of interest of board members.

Trustees and members of Harvard’s governing bodies would have to disclose any financial transactions between the school and the trustee or the trustee’s family members.

According to the Boston Globe, the bill drew from a report published last year by the Center for Social Philanthropy that criticized Harvard and Dartmouth for risky investment strategies.

The report was partially funded by the Service Employees International Union, which represents some Harvard staff and also lobbied for the new law.

—Staff writer Zoe A. Y. Weinberg can be reached at zoe.weinberg@college.harvard.edu.

Tags