Lobbyists Guard Harvard's Interests From Lawmakers

To many, Harvard is an ivory tower collection of academics and students far removed from the rest of the world.

The fact, however, is that the University must confront the confusing realities of national and state politics all the time. To protect its normal routines from government regulations, Harvard works through three "legislative agents"--also known as lobbyists.

The lobbyists are employees of the Department of Government, Community and Public Affairs, and their jobs are enormous: to watch national and state legislatures for policy changes which could affect the University.

The issues that affect the University can vary from the matters of national fiscal policies to the minutiae of research policy or even import law.

Take for example, the problems that arose when Harvard hired a music professor from Germany last year.

The new professor needed to import his pianos, which was not a problem. But the ivory keys, banned according to import regulations, were a different story.

Enter Harvard's Washington based lobbyist Nan Nixon. She worked feverishly to find a way around the import rules. Ultimately, however, the professor's keys stayed behind in Germany.

Despite the occasional failure, though Harvard's lobbyists are generally successful at protecting the University's interests, according to Jane H. Corlette, acting vice president for government, community and public affairs.

"We do basic research about issues to determine whether they might affect Harvard," Corlette says. "We then decide whether we might lobby for them.

Corlette says that it is to Harvard's benefit to form alliances with other institutions affected by potential legislation.

"The game of politics is in numbers of votes," Corlette says, and lobbyists garner legislators' votes by making contacts with universities in their districts.

In fact, Kevin Casey, director of state relations and a registered legislative assistant for Harvard, says that Harvard's most important role in policy making is not in lobbying directly for the University. Instead, Harvard often joins with other universities to advocate policies for mutual benefit.

For example, Casey will meet this month with members of the National Association of Research Universities, one of several Washington-based higher education associations which lobby Congress on educational policy, to discuss strategy for dealing with Clinton's funding of the space program.

"It's important to show them that [a given issue] is not only important for Harvard but for BU, MIT, and Boston College," Corlette says. "We almost never go in and ask for things that are specific to Harvard."

Although Harvard has many alumni in Washington, notably Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54-'56 (D-Mass), theUniversity can be perceived as well-off and not inneed of assistance--in both Massachusetts andnational legislatures.