As many of you already know, I recently launched the “Free Harvard/Fair Harvard” campaign, aimed at electing a slate of five candidates to the Harvard Board of Overseers on a platform of (1) increasing the transparency of today’s opaque and abuse-ridden admissions process and (2) immediately eliminating undergraduate tuition as being unnecessary given the huge size of the endowment.
Although scarcely a single individual in America was aware of our plans until five or six weeks ago, our momentum has been enormous, and the New York Times ran a (somewhat suspiciously-minded) front-page story about our reformist campaign on Friday, which quickly sparked additional stories in the London Telegraph, the Harvard Crimson, New York Magazine, Time Magazine, and several other publications, along with considerable international coverage in Spanish, Turkish, and Chinese media outlets.
Harvard is the world’s wealthiest and most prestigious university, and if it were suddenly to abolish tuition under the pressure of a referendum vote of its 320,000 alumni, the resulting earthquake in the global academic community would have aftershocks far and wide. Indeed, some of Harvard’s most eminent scholars have already dropped me supportive notes, questioning the absurd rise of tuition at their own institution and at other universities over the past few decades, and very much hoping that our campaign might succeed in reversing this trend.
Certainly, Harvard hardly needs the money. Embedded below is a striking chart, showing the relative size of Harvard’s sources of income in recent years, with the annual investment earnings from its mammoth endowment regularly averaging some twenty-five times larger than the net tuition revenue from its college students. As I stated in my late 2012 article “Paying Tuition to a Giant Hedge Fund” Harvard has quietly become one of the world’s largest hedge-funds, with its aggressively managed $38 billion portfolio shielded from all taxation because of the small educational institution it continues to run as a charity off to one side.
Adding to the attention of our bold campaign has been the strange-bedfellows ideological alliance of our slate of five candidates for Harvard Overseer. Both I and Lee Cheng, co-founder of the Asian-American Legal Foundation, are generally characterized as conservatives. Stuart Taylor, Jr., who has spent decades as a prominent journalist and legal commentator, is usually considered a political moderate, although the Brookings Institution with which he has long been affiliated perhaps leans a bit more liberal. Stephen Hsu, Professor of Theoretical Physics and Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies at Michigan State, is very much a moderate academic liberal, whose blogsite has for years proudly featured photos of his meetings with President Obama. And Ralph Nader, headlining our slate, is surely one of the most renowned political progressives of the last half century.
It is also far from coincidental that two of the five members of our slate are Asian-Americans. Several years ago I published strong statistical evidence for the existence of an “Asian Quota” at Harvard and the other Ivy League universities, prompting The New York Times to run a symposium on the topic, which attracted enormous attention and commentary.
Naturally, Harvard and its peers ignored these complaints, and just a few months ago The Economist ran a lengthy survey on the issue of Asian Quotas, updating my results and showing that nothing had changed. Add to this the massive pattern of corrupt and abusive admissions practices at elite colleges—documented by Pulitzer Prize winner Daniel Golden in his book The Price of Admission—and it is obvious that only the disinfecting sunlight of admissions transparency would restore our own alma mater and its peers to the academic integrity that is absolutely necessary for their continued existence. And only the external pressure of a successful campaign for seats on the Harvard Board of Overseers could achieve this result.
Indeed, the notorious sluggishness of the Harvard Administration in responding to any external stimuli was the immediate spur for this campaign. Earlier this year the New York Times had solicited a piece from me on my suggestions for improving higher education, and I merely reiterated my argument that elite colleges should immediately abolish tuition. Response at the time was overwhelmingly positive from all ideological quarters, but Mighty Harvard paid not the slightest notice to my words, leading me to consider what possible means might exist to impose necessary reforms upon such an enormously wealthy and rather solipsistic institution, now rapidly approaching its 400th anniversary. This Overseer campaign was the ultimate result.
And if we succeed with this effort, the reverberations will echo far and wide, given that so many of Harvard’s near-peers possess balance sheets and institutional proclivities that are nearly indistinguishable. Anyone who looks at a chart of the sources of income for Yale, Princeton, and Stanford would notice an uncanny resemblance to their Cambridge sibling. So if Harvard falls to the “Free Tuition Movement,” many other academic dominoes will surely soon topple as well.
Will our campaign succeed? Maybe, maybe not. Based on all indications so far, I have little doubt that if our names do appear on the annual Overseer ballot and our position statements are mailed out to the 320,000 Harvard alumni, we will win a resounding victory throughout the Harvard community, and soon thereafter Mighty Harvard will agree to forego 4% of its annual investment income and henceforth become tuition-free, while also starting to shift its admissions process from abusive total opacity to some degree of reasonable transparency. But the more difficult question is whether we will even be able to reach that ballot.
We now have little more than ten remaining days to obtain the valid signatures of 201 Harvard alumni, holders of either undergraduate or graduate degrees, and although those numbers are small, our time is very short. Furthermore, the traditions of such an august institution, set forth in the antique English of its mid-17th Century charter, require that all such signatures be provided in physical form and only written upon the elegant petitions printed by the University itself.
Thus, anyone holding a Harvard degree who is interested in signing our petitions and perhaps changing the world should email us at petitions@FreeHarvard.org, and include your mailing address to obtain a petition for signing. If you can commit to quickly gathering an additional signature or two and also include your phone number, we will fedex you a petition. The more Harvard alumni signatures all of you can quickly gather, the more likely Harvard will soon become both free and fair.