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Undergraduate Life Cashes in on New College Fund

Through the Undergraduate Life Fund, the College hopes to establish a direct line to alums

By Alexander D. Blankfein, Crimson Staff Writer

There is a joke making the rounds in University Hall that the College owes its “fun” budget to a game of tennis.

According to a Harvard administrator, outgoing University President Lawrence H. Summers and Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 are occasional tennis partners, and the two have been known to discuss undergraduate life over the net.

Those games and discussions appear to have paid off, as the College has increasingly relied on the Office of the President to fund its undergraduate life initiatives.

Summers has used his office’s discretionary funds to contribute money to College concerts, House renovations, and more recently, the construction of a campus pub in Loker Commons and a café in Lamont Library.

“President Summers’ interest in undergraduate life and his direct support of campus events—events that would have otherwise not been possible—has certainly helped to raise awareness that these are important issues,” writes Zachary A Corker ’04, special assistant to Gross, in an e-mail. “Without the support of the Office of the President many initiatives, such as the Loker renovations, simply would not be happening.”

Though Summers is now on his way out of the University, the culture of support for undergraduate life that he has left behind may be his greatest legacy to the College. When asked by The Crimson last month to list some of his greatest achievements as president, Summers said he thought that a “real beginning has been made in improving the undergraduate experience,” though he cautioned that “we still have a long way to go.”

It is this focus on the undergraduate experience touted by Summers, some say, that has allowed the College to proceed with the launch of the Undergraduate Life Fund. Established in February under the auspices of the Harvard College Fund—which is controlled by the dean of the Faculty—the fund gives the College access to its own steady source of alumni funding for the first time in recent memory.

“[The College] shouldn’t need the president of the get a few million dollars in order to make necessary investments, like Loker,” Summers told a group of students in May.

But although top College administrators have been criss-crossing the country raising money for the new fund, questions have emerged over its permanence and whether it can take the place of a benevolent Office of the President.


The Harvard College Fund (HCF), the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ main source for alumni donations, has traditionally allowed donors to designate their gifts for faculty support, libraries, financial aid, or graduate fellowships.

Alumni may also contribute funds for unrestricted use.

The HCF’s 2005 Annual Report states that 31,325 donors contributed a total of nearly $80 million last academic year to the fund.

Though the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development—which administers the College Fund—does not release specific figures, the majority of gifts made to the fund are unrestricted, according to Sarah J. Friedell, director of media relations for the office.

Despite its name, the College Fund is ultimately in the hands of the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).

One Harvard administrator, who spoke on condition of anonymity so that he could speak freely on internal matters, calls the HCF’s pitch to alums “borderline fraudulent,” explaining that because the dean of FAS answers to the Faculty, he does not prioritize undergraduate life concerns.

“Faculty hiring is the focus,” the University Hall administrator says.

At Harvard, the dean of the College reports to the dean of the Faculty, who in turn reports to the president. At peer institutions, such as Yale, the dean of the college reports directly to the university president or provost.

FAS administrators maintain that while the dean of the Faculty is ultimately responsible for allocating unrestricted funds from the HCF, he does so only after consultation with other administrators.

“Gifts to the Harvard College Fund are used to support priorities that will improve undergraduate teaching and undergraduate life,” wrote Donella Rapier, vice-president for alumni affairs and development, in an e-mail last week. “These priorities are established by the FAS dean in collaboration with the faculty, other members of the FAS administration (including, of course, the dean of Harvard College), alumni leaders, the President, and the Governing Boards.” Because the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development does not release specific numbers, it is unclear what percentage of the money raised through the HCF supports undergraduate life.

The same University Hall administrator maintains that FAS’s financial straits mean that increasingly, undergraduate priorities are being pushed aside.

FAS is in the middle of a $800 million building boom that is driving the administration into a projected budget deficit of up to $40 million.

Outgoing Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby has said that “students, by and large, will not experience” the budget crunch, but the University Hall official disputes that FAS’s financial position will not affect undergraduates.

“It’s the position the College is in where it is literally begging for handouts,” says the administrator.

The FAS budget squeeze has already forced the College to abandon several renovation initiatives. The Group III budget, a $200,000 fund for renovating undergraduate Houses, was eliminated this spring.

“If you are going to keep everyone on campus, then you are going to need to provide for students,” says Corker.

According to a Harvard administrator who requested anonymity in order to speak freely, the renovations of Mather and Dunster dining halls last year were made possible only after Summers’ office set aside money.

Gross maintains that he has been able to fund all of his initiatives.

“I have a very good relationship with Dean Kirby and President Summers,” said Gross in an interview last week. “I have never really felt that I couldn’t fund the initiatives that I wanted to.”

College projects that have also received funding from Summers’ office this year include April’s Yardfest, featuring pop artist Ben Folds, the renovations of Loker, the creation of the café in Lamont Library, and the Harvard State Fair last fall.

But while the president’s office has stepped up to fund the College’s projects, Summers has suggested frequently that the College needs to find a way to finance its initiatives on its own.

“I felt in my years as president that there was a real gap in the adequacy of funding for student life and have fairly consistently tried to fill that gap,” Summers said in an interview with The Crimson last month. “Over time, I would think that the financial arrangements should be set so [these undergraduate initiatives] can be handled internally by the dean of Harvard College.”


The Undergraduate Life Fund offers the College a way to finance its own agenda separate from FAS.

The fund, which Gross says was created in concert with Kirby and the FAS development office, has been very popular with alumni thus far.

“When I’m out speaking to alumni, they say, ‘How can I give a donation that will directly affect student life?’” Gross told The Crimson in March. “This resonates enormously with alumni.”

Corker, who is managing the campus pub project, has also been traveling around the country to speak to alums about the new fund. The fund allows donors to “attach a student face” to their contributions, he says.

Eryn Ament Bingle ’95, who is her class’s co-chair for fundraising and a member of the HCF’s Executive Committee, says that alums are “very excited about the opportunity to direct [their] gifts to another aspect of undergraduate life.”

“For my generation...we are 11 years out,” Bingle says. “We like the chance to give money directly to projects that we think would have been really fun.”

“What is unique about it is that Dean Gross is unusually active in directing where the money gets sent,” she adds.


At least two administrators have criticized FAS for failing to promise long-term support for the Undergraduate Life Fund.

In an interview last week, Kirby hinted that the fund would not necessarily be a permanent part of the HCF.

“If you look over the history of Harvard fundraising, there are a large number of initiatives that are started to meet certain goals, and then they meet those goals,” Kirby said.

But another University Hall administrator says that because the fund is not permanent, it is an untenable long-term solution to the problems the College has faced in funding undergraduate initiatives.

“I’m not trying to paint it as a dire situation, but it’s not sustainable,” says the administrator. “[The fund] is not the answer.”

But Bingle, who serves on the executive committee of the HCF, says that the Undergraduate Life Fund “is not talked about as a temporary thing.”

“Realistically, I don’t think [disbanding the Undergraduate Life Fund] will happen,” she says. “There are big projects in the works for undergraduate life. They need money. The College wants them to be funded. I mean, you don’t start construction on a pub and then not fund it.”

Another concern expressed by the University Hall administrator is that the Undergraduate Life Fund may be disbanded if it draws away contributions from the unrestricted funds of the HCF.

Though Kirby says that this is not a concern, he does emphasize that the unrestricted funds are “absolutely essential.”

“Obviously, our highest priority remains the unrestricted giving of alumni to the College that we can use for whatever purpose,” says Kirby.


A number of initiatives to improve undergraduate life that began under Summers’ tenure will come to fruition next semester.

With an infusion of cash from the Undergraduate Life Fund as well as the Office of the President, the construction of the new Loker pub—dubbed “Queen’s Head”—and the Lamont Café will begin in the summer and be complete by mid-semester.

Other initiatives supported by the fund include the new undergraduate social programming board, which was allocated $200,000 and will be charged with planning and running several campus-wide social events during the upcoming academic year.

Although Gross declined to reveal the amount raised so far, he said last week that “a lot of initiatives have been able to get started” this semester with money from the new fund.

A pamphlet distributed to potential donors lists other initiatives that will be supported by the Undergraduate Life Fund, including “innovations in teaching and advising,” arts programming, non-varsity athletics such as club sports and intramurals, and house renovations.

The Dean’s Fund will also support development and programming for the new Women’s Center and mental health services for students, according to the pamphlet.

Gross says he believes that the upcoming academic year will be a “year of implementation.”

“We have a new advising program, the recommendations voted by the Faculty in the curricular review, and a new events board,” says Gross. “This is going to be a year of getting things to work.”

—Staff writer Alexander D. Blankfein can be reached at

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