Donors, Not Harvard, Should Give To Relief Efforts

To the editors:

Speaking just as a Harvard parent and a loyal Harvard alumnus, I think both the editorial (“In Safe Hands”) and the dissenting opinion (“Stop Matching Donations”) of Oct. 18 fail to identify the main reason why it is inappropriate for Harvard to donate to charities providing relief to the victims of natural disasters. Harvard really has no money of its own. It is merely the trustee for money given or paid to it for education and research, and funds resulting from reinvestment of such gifts and payments—funds which should themselves be invested in education and research at Harvard.

When Harvard asks for donations it cites the need to support its education and research, and those of us who give or pay money to Harvard do so to support activities related to those purposes—for example, better courses and improved advising. If Harvard wants its parents and donors to support relief efforts, it should include with its term bills and solicitations requests that money be sent directly to worthy charities, as well as to Harvard. Given the specific purposes for which its tax exemption was granted, Harvard should not act as a broker between its family and other charities, however urgent and compelling their causes.


Cambridge, Mass.

October 19, 2005

The writer is Harvard College Professor and Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science. He was dean of the College from 1995 to 2003.