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As many of you have probably already heard, our Free Harvard/Fair Harvard campaign for the Board of Overseers failed yesterday, with none of the five candidates on our slate being successful. The highly contentious nature of this year’s contest did boost the vote-by-mail turnout to 11%, considerably higher than the more usual 7%. But with nearly 90% of Harvard’s 320,000 throwing their ballots in the trash, lack of interest clearly won a gigantic landslide victory.
Given that no petition candidate had successfully won a seat on Harvard’s board in the 27 years since since Nobel Laureate Archbishop Tutu of South Africa made the cut in 1989, with a young Barack Obama being among the numerous failures, I suppose I should have expected this result from the beginning. But I’d like to believe that if not for a certain loudmouthed Republican presidential candidate having grabbed such an astonishing share of the national media oxygen over the last six months, our bold proposal to completely abolish tuition at the world’s most prestigious college would have attracted far more attention, considerably reducing the trash-can vote, and perhaps giving us a shot at victory.
In any event, I do believe we vastly increased the number of Americans now aware that Harvard’s annual investment income is so massively disproportionate to its net tuition revenue, perhaps laying the basis for future changes along the lines we proposed. Among other straws in the wind, just a few weeks after our campaign reached the front page of The New York Times, a group of influential U.S. Senators began pressing Harvard and its peers to allocate a much larger fraction of their annual earnings to financial aid or lose their tax exemption, with a figure as high as 25% being bandied about.
Although to a layperson, it might hardly seem unreasonable for wealthy colleges such as Harvard to spend just a quarter of their income subsidizing the education of their undergraduates, in practice such a demand would force Harvard to abolish all tuition, abolish all room-and-board costs, and also provide each student a brand new Rolls-Royce automobile each year, a policy which would surely increase the number of annual applicants to even higher levels.
It would not totally surprise me if at some point, Harvard’s shrewd financial managers may decide that the 4% allocation we were suggesting seems a lot cheaper than the 25% demanded by Congress, and immediately abolish tuition with a sudden wave of their hands.
In another strange irony, disgraced former Harvard President Larry Summers ferociously denounced our “free tuition” proposal as a disgusting giveaway to the wealthy elites, whose unfair financial privileges he so strongly opposes. Surely, Hillary Clinton should begin using a similar line of attack against her notoriously pro-Oligarchic opponent Bernie Sanders, who has proposed something very similar.
In the past, Summers has been somewhat less hesitant in assisting the rich, such as when he used $26.5 million of Harvard funds to settle a government insider-trading case against one of his closest friends, who thereby perhaps avoided a long prison sentence as a result. This one of the major factors leading to a massive faculty revolt against Summers and his forced resignation as Harvard president, an event probably without precedent in Harvard history. Although personal friendship is surely priceless, Summers must have realized he was risking his presidency over that decision, and I’ve always half-suspected that he’d himself been a silent partner in that insider-trading ring, and was therefore blackmailed into using tens of millions in Harvard’s endowment money to save his friend from the slammer lest he end up wearing pinstripes himself.
Meanwhile, my longshot U.S. Senate race in California remains very longshot indeed, with yesterday’s front page story in the San Jose Mercury News providing a reasonably accurate summary of the situation. Still, regardless of what happens in that effort, I’m very pleased to have used my candidacy as an opportunity to propose an easy and obvious reform to the H-1B immigration problems that have so bedeviled Silicon Valley for many years. Furthermore, I believe I have now put together many of the necessary pieces for a sweeping “grand bargain” on immigration reform in general, a vital national issue that has always failed in Congress since the early 2000s.
And I’m really quite proud of the simple campaign video we managed to put together on a total shoestring:
“Group Urging Free Tuition at Harvard Fails to Win Seats on Board”
Stephanie Saul, The New York Times, May 23, 2016