Crimson opinion writer
Guillermo S. Hava
That might be the most frustrating thing about the pro-philanthropy worldview: Bok and his supporters never deny that there’s a legitimate moral debate at hand, they never reject the pitfalls of relying heavily on donations (even if they undersell the costs and overrate the benefits). They simply lack the imagination or the will to view beyond our current funding system, discarding concerning trends as “troubling” but “inevitable.”
But because he’s only human, Bloomberg can also be a self-interested agent, one vulnerable to flaws, excessive ambition, and stamp-your-name-on-everything narcissism. He is a perfect example of the dangers of overly concentrated power, of how massive wealth can excessively enable the whims of a single individual.
So Harvard put together a glamorous trip to Saudi Arabia, one that was characterized by soft propagandistic efforts and the reflexive self-imposed boundaries on the participants' speech. That much is as obvious as it is predictable; a logical continuation of our University’s outreach to a number of less than democratic countries. The more relevant question is whether such ventures are ever a net good.
But our institution and its counterparts are trapped in a gold-plated version of the prisoner’s dilemma. Harvard — along with the MoMA and other Black-financed enterprises — could benefit from the increased levels of federal funding afforded by equitable, grift-free taxation. More crucially, they have, or perhaps should have, a duty as society-minded institutions to protect the public’s well-being against the excesses of exorbitant inequality.
It’s undeniable that universities are an essential part of any functioning democracy — and that any attempt at dismantling liberal democratic institutions necessarily passes through (or rather over) independent-minded educational institutions. They occupy a dual role, canaries in a coal mine that can also, through their powerful institutional call, help thwart the advance of authoritarian, illiberal policies at home — as our own University did, to its credit, under the Trump administration when it sued to halt new visa policies that would have evicted and barred international students.
We have a campus culture that instills a very specific set of normative values. We tell our students what we value — money, power, influence.
When Harvard received a donation to revamp and rename its School of Public Health in 2014, most press releases and public coverage focused on the more amicable face of the deal.