Harvard Law School Makes Online Zero-L Course Free for All U.S. Law Schools Due to Coronavirus


For Kennedy School Fellows, Epstein-Linked Donors Present a Moral Dilemma


Tenants Grapple with High Rents and Local Turnover at Asana-Owned Properties


In April, Theft Surged as Cambridge Residents Stayed at Home


The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained


By Frederic L. Ballard jr.

THE Federal government is now spending over $12 billion a year on research and development. Less than two tenths of a per cent of this money comes to Harvard, but even this fractional percentage ($20 million) has been more than enough to create circumstances where the University community has expressed interest in, and in some cases, alarm over certain aspects of the Federal Aid Program.

One of the more frequently discussed problems is the threat to the "balance" between various kinds of knowledge and fields of learning. Too much money channelled into the natural sciences, according to the theory, might lead to an overwhelming increase in the science Faculty -- an increase which would dwarf the humanities and the social sciences.

Indeed, strong evidence exists for this argument. Certainly, the bulk of Federal aid in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is distributed among the chemists, physicists, and applied mathematicians. For example, the government gives $5 million yearly to cover the administrative costs of the Cambridge Electron Accelerator, a machine which cost $11.6 million in Federal funds to build. Significantly, the $6 million the government put into medical research in 1960 more than doubled the combined total offered that year to the Schools of Public Health, Dental Medicine, Education, Divinity, Public Administration, Law, Business Administration, and Design.

The first answer that comes to mind is to attempt to redress this balance by building up the private funds going to the fields and graduate schools which do not receive large Federal grants. And to some extent this policy has been followed, especially with the distribution of the new funds the University acquired through the Program for Harvard College. But the entire area of Federal aid is a murky one, and it is possible, by starting from a different premise, to argue a position that is directly opposite.

Thus one can begin not with the problem of maintaining the balance between the areas of knowledge, but with that of maintaining the tradition of academic freedom. The tradition should not be taken for granted. The government is not interested in supporting a university's research endeavors simply for the sake of supporting research. As President Pusey remarked in his speech before the Alumni last June, "It just happens to be a fact that in our present world neither eminence nor security for nations can be attained without the help of strong universities. So the government, rightfully pursuing its policies, spends billions of dollars in research and development..."

The government, in fact, tends occasionally to have its own ideas about what its money should be used for; and more often, about the terms under which its money should be used. Some Federal aid money requires the applicant to file an affidavit disclaiming membership, and even belief, in any subversive organizations. A second source of friction is indirect costs. A formula devised by the budget bureau suggests that the overhead expense to the University involved in administering every hundred dollars of Federal aid can rise as high as $28.50. But Harvard is allowed to add onto most research contracts only a 15 per cent allowance for indirect costs, and the difference between what the government itself admits to be the correct indirect cost percentage and what it allows the university to charge drains about $1 million a year from Harvard's unrestricted funds.

Another, probably more important problem is security, for it is difficult to set up long-range programs, and impossible to salary tenured professors, when one cannot be sure how long the grants will keep coming. And so in many cases, the universities would not be reluctant to finance by themselves much of the spending now covered by Federal Funds.

This kind of thinking would suggest that they should attempt to build up private funds in the areas that are heavily subsidized by the government -- as Harvard is currently doing with its Medical School Fund drive. The "balance of learning" theory, by comparison, would have been better satisfied by a campaign for the Graduate School of Education, or perhaps the Design School.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.