Speaking Softly:

Harvard's Lobbying Efforts On the State Level

In the world of city politics, Harvard has long been accustomed to being everyone's least favorite neighbor. As one of the area's largest and wealthiest institutions, the University is often perceived as wielding a disproportionate influence on many local decisions.

But beyond the boundaries of Cambridge, the influence of the Harvard name falls off dramatically. In the realm of state politics, Harvard tends to maintain a low profile, speaking quietly--but often--on the large range of issues that concern it.

"Harvard does not weigh in as a heavy," says State Sen. Michael J. Barrett '70 (D-Cambridge). "It never tries to threaten passage of major legislation."

Harvard's near invisibility as a state lobbyist, Barrett says, is not the result of a lack of interests. Because of its size and the variety of programs it offers, Harvard often finds itself particularly suseptible to state regulation.

"The University has been around for so long that even relatively mundane business tends to interfere with state policy," explains Barrett.

Although Harvard's interests on the state level are broad, they tend to concentrate on the areas of state scholarship funds, environmental regulation, real estate and academic research, according to Kevin Casey, the University's director of state relations.

But, says Barrett, Harvard is not one to issue ultimatums--in part because it does not have the same kind of leverage that for-profit institutions of comparable size possess. Other large corporations, Barrett says, may threaten to pack up and leave the area--taking valuable jobs and tax dollars with them--if their demands aren't met. Harvard does not have that option.

Additionally, Barrett says, Harvard is not just another large business interest. It is a non-profit corporation with a reputation for liberal, progressive thought.

"Harvard does not tend to identify itself with business interests in outright opposition to legislation," Barrett says. "It doesn't tend to enter coalitions with other large corporations."

State Rep. Mark Roosevelt '78, says that Harvard is in fact less vocal than many other area colleges--primarily because it enrolls a smaller percentage of students from Massachusetts.

Not only does that policy reduce the University's interest in one of the key areas of college lobbying--scholarship funds, it means that Harvard has a smaller pool of alumni whom it can appeal to in the State House. Although House Speaker George Keverian '53 is a Harvard graduate, Harvard alumni in the legislature number only about a dozen.

As a result, Roosevelt says, Harvard rarely tries to exert influence over individual lawmakers.

"The influence of a Northeastern or a Boston College is much greater," Roosevelt says. "Harvard is a very minor player."

"Here I am, a Harvard graduate, a legislator, and I don't even know Harvard's position on the issues," he says. "I don't know what Harvard wants."

Harvard's influence may be more keenly felt in the executive branch--particularly under the administration of Gov. Michael S. Dukakis. Dukakis, a Law School graduate, is a former lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government, and some state politicoes have identified a "revolving door" between Harvard and the Dukakis administration.