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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

A Capital Weekend

BRASS TACKS

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

EVERY YEAR for the past 16 years, alumni fundraisers for the Harvard College Fund have gathered for a weekend in Cambridge. They dine in Eliot House, listen in rapture as Harvard administrators propound on educational issues of the day, drink up and head out to cheer on the football team, sitting in the very stadium their tax deductible contributions will help rebuild in the next few years.

Most of these men are charming and grandfatherly, if slightly out of touch with the students in whose educations they take such a pecuniary interest. They are glad to chat with the few undergraduates they happen upon during their sequestered stay here and good naturedly reminisce about the good old days.

There are, in addition, a good many arrogantly successful business types who fit firmly the wealthy alumnus stereotype that Harvard officials often claim no longer holds. According to alumni office polls, graduates approve wholeheartedly of today's Harvard--equal access admissions notwithstanding--but the dark wood paneling and a shot of Chivas bring out the more conservative opinions at these gatherings. These men freely castigate today's "youth," unaware of how much they share with the numerous pre-corporate leaders looking over business school catalogues in undergraduate dorms nearby.

The conversations along the buffet table consist mostly of insurance firm gossip, lamentations about the stock market, and the latest round of fifty-year old debates on the relative merits of the Yankees and the Red Sox. But this year, more than a few alumni mentioned either excitement or concern about the possibility of Harvard launching a major capital fund drive, the first such drive here since the mid-fifties.

The area class agents may make Barry Gold-water look like George McGovern but they still devote a great deal of time each year to the Harvard College Fund; the University itself pays 13 cents for each dollar the Fund raises and last year contributions exceeded $6 million. The Fund has now recovered from its troublesome years earlier this decade when out of desperation the Fund chairman offered free copies of Love Story as an incentive to large donors. The Faculty relies heavily on the Fund for income, particularly unrestricted income that can be used to pay for financial aid and other undergraduate programs.

But the Fund does not supply the Faculty with much long term capital, so, for the past year, Harvard has studied the possibility of launching an ambitious drive to raise capital for various sections of the University--including the Faculty--in financial trouble. Although specifics of the drive have not been announced, its structure would probably resemble Yale University's $370 million, five-year drive, which has floundered. Many administrators are taking the implementation of the new drive as a foregone conclusion although Development Officers are stating officially that the drive is still "under consideration."

Dean Rosovsky is reluctant to release specific goals or timetables for the drive, which would be conducted through President Bok and the central administration. But he's not at all reluctant to describe his support for the drive, declaring that if "we don't do it, we are courting disaster." Rosovsky called the drive a "forward looking, not a reactionary" action necessary to "maintain the level of excellence we are accustomed to."

The Faculty's financial resources have been severely strained during the past few years. It needs a new infusion of capital to supplement savings that have been depleted. Funds are needed to renovate some of the Houses, including Radcliffe, and to improve athletics facilities. And, if the Faculty approves the recommendations of Rosovsky's task forces on undergraduate education, funds will certainly be required to implement these programs, which will place much needed emphasis on education in the College.

Faculty administrators are also becoming alarmed by the tuition and related fees they impose on students to come to Harvard. They are wary of destroying the socio-economic diversity for which the University is supposedly striving. Harvard's "middle class" students already come from families far wealthier than the average American family and administrators are justifiably worried about exacerbating this disparity.

Rosovsky obviously has numerous reasons for supporting the proposed drive. Both the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers discussed the drive in September; the Overseers' visiting Resource Committee convened four months ahead of schedule to review studies on the drive. These planners and advisers must now design a method of implementing the drive that would aid, rather than damage, the College Fund drive. In addition, Development Officers have not yet announced how they will incorporate or wind up their 15-20 existing mini-drives.

The development staff will also have to determine how broad a scope the drive will have, i.e., whether it would include only the Faculty or whether all programs dealing with public policy--the Kennedy School of Government, the Graduate School of Design, the Graduate Schools of Education and perhaps the School of Public Health--will be included. And the Office still has to find someone to head the drive--Robert Stone Jr. '45, a member of the Corporation, is one name being dropped but sources say he may have already rejected a tentative offer.

One source close to the Development Office believes that the Corporation will opt for a three-year, $225 million drive ending in 1981. He notes that '81 will be Bok's tenth year in the College presidency and Bok, this source says, has mentioned to fellow administrators that he will stay in his present post for only ten years. Although that intention is far from definite, the completion of the drive would be a fitting swan song for a departing president.

If this dollar estimate is correct. Harvard is setting a steep task for itself. The University receives more contributions than any other school in the country but if administrators wish to reach $225 million they will have to raise $75 million a year, $16 million more than they are presently earning.

Alfred M. Gibbens director of the Development Office, tries to minimize the publicity the drive has received, saying that Harvard has not completed a feasibility study and that an official announcement is still at least a year away. Gibbens's position, though, seems far from the minds of the alumni visiting this weekend. When the Harvard band played at the pre-game luncheon Saturday, the dignified leaders of corporate America put down their bloody marys nostalgically and waved their arms in time to the music. But five minutes later they were back to business, plotting graphs and diagrams for Harvard's drives on the corners of their crumpled napkins.

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