Roughly halfway through a five year capital campaign that hopes to raise a higher education record of $6.5 billion, University President Drew G. Faust extolled Harvard’s broad societal value to hundreds of alumni and affiliates gathered on campus Tuesday night.
The event, boasting more than 750 guests in Burden Hall at the Business School, was the latest in a series of “Your Harvard” alumni gatherings around the country and world; Faust has made similar appearances in Atlanta, New York, Beijing, and Mexico City.
As of October, Harvard had raised $6.1 billion of its $6.5 billion goal, and while Faust did not say on Tuesday how much Harvard had raised since then, she elucidated some of the campaign’s goals and accomplishments so far. Harvard has raised $730 million towards financial aid during the campaign, according to Faust.
“We gather tonight to celebrate what we have achieved in the campaign so far, what you and more than 126,000 households around the world have already made possible,” Faust, clad in a crimson-colored suit jacket, said to the room full of alumni, donors, and potential donors. “We build on the generosity and ingenuity of those who came before us, those who over centuries have strengthened Harvard for an unknown and uncertain future. Like them, we must be willing to push further and reach higher as Harvard has uniquely equipped us to do.”
Faust specifically highlighted renovating the College’s 12 undergraduate Houses, building Harvard’s Allston campus, and increasing financial aid. Over the past few years, Harvard has been systematically renovating decades-old residential housing at the College—renewal will begin in Winthrop House this summer. But fundraising for the House renewal initiative has progressed relatively slower than other priorities in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences campaign, according to a September report.
“We need to build, renovate, and maintain spaces worthy of the students and faculty who populate them,” Faust said. “And this campaign is helping us to do that. House renewal has breathed new life into old Quincy House—now Stone Hall—Leverett House, and Dunster House.”
Faust’s speech, largely focused on the importance of the research university, was not without some levity—she poked fun at Yale University as she underscored Harvard’s progress over the last few years.
“CS50, an introduction to computer science, is one of the most popular courses, and it’s so undeniably good that Yale gave up on teaching introductory computer science and uses our course,” she said to laughs.
Before Faust took the stage, a panel featuring Government professor Danielle S. Allen and University Professor Douglas A. Melton explored the ethical implications of modern biological and gene editing science. Neal Baer, who graduated from several Harvard graduate schools and has worked in television, facilitated the wide-ranging and intellectual discussion.
In an interview with The Crimson before the event began, Baer said that the large “Your Harvard” alumni “were one of a multitude of ways that Harvard reaches out to alums.”
“But certainly I think this a good way to do it,” he said. “To get the leading voices in front of 750 people is pretty great.”
Others, though, were trying to engage alumni for different purposes. In addition to some of the University’s most prominent alumni and power brokers, a group of protesters showed up outside the event to criticize the Harvard Club of Boston’s employment practices.
Michael D. Lewis ’93, who attended the event, had similar praises to Baer's. For alumni removed from the day-to-day of Harvard’s research and work, the academic panel was particularly interesting, Lewis said.
“I think for a lot of the alumni once you leave the university environment you don’t have a sense of who the faculty are and what they’re doing outside of the superstars whose names you see in the news all the time,” Lewis said. “But this is an event that gives you a sense of the kind of work being done and kinds of people who are doing it. I feel energized by it.”
After Faust’s speech, many alumni headed over to Shad Hall, also on the Business School campus, for what a brochure advertised as a “festive party.”—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.