Faust Defends Tax-Exempt Endowment In D.C.

University President Drew G. Faust traveled to Washington D.C. this week to advocate for maintaining the tax-exempt status of Harvard’s $37.6 billion endowment and increasing federal research funding.

Recently, Harvard’s endowment has come under scrutiny from members of Congress who suggest large university endowments should be taxed. Earlier this year, some members of Congress requested that all schools with endowments larger than $1 billion answer a series of questions about how they use the money from their endowments. Faust responded with a public letter justifying the endowment’s tax-exempt status and explaining how it funds a number of University programs, including financial aid.

In an interview before her trip, Faust said that she would be “trying to explain how endowments work and why they’re important and why they’re a good thing, not a bad thing” to the House Ways and Means Committee members who raised questions about endowments.

Faust also met with several legislators, including U.S. Senators Susan M. Collins, Orrin G. Hatch, John F. Reed, and Benjamin E. Sasse ’94, according to University spokesperson Jeff Neal. U.S. Representative John Lewis, who was on campus earlier this month with Faust to unveil a plaque dedicated to four slaves who lived and worked at Harvard in the 18th century, and Massachusetts representative Richard Neal were also among the public officials Faust met.

In those meetings, Faust focused on federal funding for scientific research at colleges and universities. Harvard receives hundreds of millions of dollars every year to for scientific research funding, but in recent years, among federal budget cuts, federal support has declined. In 2015, Harvard received less than $800 million from outside funding sources, including the federal government—the lowest amount it has received since 2010.

Faust said she regularly argues for increased federal research funding from the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health, among other sources, when she meets with legislators.

“A constant is science funding and making the case for the kinds of discovery and insight that come out of our science faculty,” Faust said earlier this month.

On her trip, Faust also met with other university presidents at the Association of American Universities, a higher education nonprofit that counts more than 60 colleges and universities as members, according to Neal.

“The presidents all come together for two and a half days of meetings in Washington on a variety of subjects,” Faust said. “The program varies from year to year, and I usually spend some time visiting people on the Hill and in the government to make the case for universities and make connections around issues that relate to our public perceptions and legislative issues."

In 2015, Harvard spent $540,000 lobbying Congress and the federal government, according to public records filed with Congress.

—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at andy.duehren@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.

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