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An analysis of criticisms levelled at the University Pension plan and the explanation given by its authors makes clear both the good intentions of the University and the inadequacy of its pension system. Despite the fact that the administration contributes 126% as much as the employees, a maid who pays premiums for twenty years may at the end of that time receive only four dollars a month. Such a small return is merely a caricature of the security which a pension system is supposed to provide. It returns to the recipient just enough money to supply carfare to the relief bureau.
For many of Harvard's higher paid employees, like carpenters, the University plan is more advantageous than the federal act. But as a matter of plain statistical fact the provision which the University makes for its lowest paid employees does not equal the pensions set by the Social Security Act for workers on the same low wage level. Thus a maid who receives a pension of ten dollars a month after thirty-five years under the Harvard plan, would under the Social Security Act receive twenty-five dollars a month.
This illustrates the difference in emphasis between the two plans. The federal act weights the returns in favor of the lowest paid workers by applying to their pensions some of the money contributed by their more fortunate comrades. But while the Social Security Act redistributes the security, the University plan perpetuates without any amelioration the extraordinary inequality which a pension system should correct.
To state the difference between the two plans is to point the way to a much needed amendment of the University system. Harvard should incorporate into its own plan the redistributing formula of the Social Security Act. In this way, the University without adding to its own already substantial contributions can increase the pensions of its lowest paid employees. It is these workers whose security must be the first concern of any pension system.
Although this suggestion is economically sound, it may seem to be morally objectionable because it proposes that the University, a private institution, should tax some of its employees for the benefit of others. But by so doing, the University would merely be following the principles approved by Congress in the Social Security Act, which Harvard professes to accept as its own standard. If the University should choose to be guided by broad sociological considerations rather than by narrow logic, it will see that a policy of accepting the principle of security for the lowest paid and then failing to provide that security, defeats the whole purpose of a pension system.
But if the University is really badly frightened by the spectre of taxation by a private organization, it still need not fail in its sincere attempt to aid its employees. President Conant could appeal to the alumni for funds to help the University provide adequate pensions for all its employees. And this on the principle that Harvard owes an obligation to its employees as well as to students; that there is no fundamental opposition between these two obligations; that in fact a University can educate its students to new situations and responsibilities by practice as well as precept.
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