University President Drew G. Faust is making the fight against the Republican tax plan her “priority focus,” reaching out to lawmakers and Harvard alumni in conservative states to combat the bill’s most “dangerous” proposals.
In an interview Friday, Faust said that she and leaders of other universities—including David W. Leebron ’77 and Michael A. Fitts ’75, the presidents of Rice University and Tulane University, respectively—have been “working on having universities in red states with relevant representatives to reach out to those representatives and help us make a case.”
If passed, the overhaul would hike taxes on tuition for graduate students, as it repeals the tax-exempt status of the “qualified tuition reduction”—tuition lowered by a university for its employees and paid graduate students. Other potential measures include removing the tax deductibility for student loans and taxing university endowments. Both the House and Senate plans could result in an estimated $43 million tax on the University’s endowment, according to an email from University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 last month.
Both the House and Senate have passed their own versions of the tax plan. Negotiators from both legislative bodies are expected to reconcile the differences and finalize the plan during a meeting on Wednesday.
Faust, who has called the tax plan a “blow at the strength of American education,” traveled to Washington, D.C. last month to meet with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. "We have worked really hard to point out why this is a very, very dangerous bill with terrible impacts for higher education,” Faust said in the interview Friday.
Faust also said that she is focusing on contacting alumni who are lawmakers or political donors. “It’s a strategy of trying to use our Harvard connections in whatever way we can, and that varies from connecting to our own alums who are in the Senate and the House, having donors and alumni who have been supportive of various members of Congress,” Faust said.
Faust’s efforts have been part of a larger University-wide conversation about the impending effects of the tax plan. Affiliates of Harvard’s 12 schools, including the College, have held rallies and phone banks to urge their Congressional representatives not to support the proposal.
The tax plan isn’t Massachusetts Hall’s only concern. Faust has been an outspoken opponent of the repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—an Obama-era program that allows undocumented youth to legally live and work in the United States—and is continuing to advocate for its continuation or a replacement situation.
Faust met with South Carolina Senator Lindsey O. Graham on Oct. 23 to discuss protections for undocumented students. Graham, during his visit to campus, met with two student leaders of Act on a Dream, a student group that advocates for immigration rights.
“[Graham] is proposing the bill to protect the Dreamers because he wants to have a permanent solution, but if he doesn’t get a permanent solution, he wants to have a BRIDGE Act before we get a permanent solution,” Faust said.
Daishi M. Tanaka ’19, a Co-Director of Act on a Dream and one of the two students at the meeting, said that he felt “dehumanized” after his conversation with Graham, adding that Graham seemed to focus on the economic benefits rather than human impact of the program.
Tanaka said that he did not have a chance to relay his thoughts to Faust after the meeting. He said that it is “great that President Faust personally is being an advocate and partaking in advocacy,” but criticized the University for not designating itself as a “sanctuary campus” last year. Faust has said that the term offers no legal protections and may draw further unwanted attention to undocumented students on campus.
—Staff writer Kristine E. Guillaume can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @krisguillaume.