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Alumni Write to Bacow Urging New HMC Investment Strategy

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston - HMC Office
Harvard Management Company is housed in the Boston Federal Reserve building.

UPDATED: February 17, 2018 at 4:11 p.m.

Eleven alumni from the Class of 1969 penned a letter to incoming University President Lawrence S. Bacow Thursday criticizing the Harvard Management Company’s investment strategy and urging a more passive approach to University funds.

The alumni suggested Harvard may be losing billions of dollars by trying too hard to manage its endowment. Instead of using hedge funds to manage its money, the University should shift half of its $37.1 billion endowment into lower-cost funds tracking the S&P; 500, the letter’s signatories argued.

“We propose a radical new endowment strategy [that will put] the whole management of the endowment on a new basis that would better reflect the values of a great university,” the alumni wrote in the letter.

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Alumni who signed the letter include attorneys, journalists, historians, one artist, one clergyman, and two professors, one of whom—Paula Caplan ’69—is an associate at Harvard’s Dubois Research Institute.

The alumni group particularly argued the endowment would have grown faster if it had been invested in the S&P; 500 instead of in hedge funds. Had 100 percent of the endowment been invested in the S&P;, it would now be valued at more than $90 billion, according to the alumni group.

“If half the endowment… had been in the S&P; 500 index, where it would have cost literally nothing to manage, then Harvard would have saved half the payments to Harvard Management, amounting to $68.8 million—enough to pay a $43 million tax bill with a good deal more to spare,” the alumni wrote.

HMC has been actively trying to reverse more than a decade of poor performance. After hiring CEO N.P. “Narv” Narvekar one year ago and dramatically cutting staff, HMC will still have to deal with a portfolio burdened with poor investments for years to come.

In Dec. 2017, Congressional Republicans passed a new tax bill that will likely force Harvard to pay tens of millions annually in added federal taxes. Experts have said the full impact of this endowment tax remains unclear.

The group has criticized HMC in the past, sending a 2009 letter to President Faust in which they suggested compensation for endowment managers was too high. In Thursday’s letter, the alumni noted they had often petitioned Harvard presidents for change in the past.

—Staff writer Lucas Ward can be reached at lucas.ward@thecrimson.com. Follow him on twitter at @LucaspfWard.

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