Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Free Harvard, Fair Harvard: Harvard Magazine and CNN coverage

We are rapidly approaching the February 1 deadline for petition signatures supporting our Free Harvard, Fair Harvard (FHFH) campaign.

Two articles just appeared concerning the campaign. Harvard Magazine's Overseers Petitioners Challenge Harvard Policies contains a thorough and lengthy review of the issues. After a quick read, I have two specific comments.

1. The author seems unaware of research showing that SAT scores are predictive not just of freshman grades, but also of performance in upper division courses and beyond (for example, they predict GRE and LSAT scores obtained by seniors applying to graduate school). These are important facts underlying the mismatch hypothesis that should be clarified.

2. The article points out that
... Faculty of Arts and Sciences [FAS] ... owned $15.4 billion of the endowment, which was valued at $37.6 billion last June 30: about 41 percent. Approximately $2.5 billion (slightly less than 7 percent) of the endowment is presidential funds—the income from some of which may be directed to FAS and the College. But the remaining majority of endowment assets is owned by other schools or units, and presumably the income distributed from them is largely or completely unavailable to pay for undergraduate tuition ...
My understanding, as someone who has endowed a scholarship at Caltech, is that although gifts are typically made with specific restrictions, universities often take liberties when necessary with the returns on these gifts. For example: after the 2008 financial crisis the Caltech President unilaterally (without informing donors like myself) imposed a tax on endowment income in order to cover a shortfall in operating budget. Indeed, I cannot identify any legal restriction in the gift agreement that prevents Caltech from imposing such a tax. I imagine most of Harvard's endowment is in a similar situation.

The second article is a CNN opinion piece by noted author and journalist Jeff Yang. I had a long discussion with Jeff about FHFH, which we recorded just for fun.

For the record, my position on Affirmative Action: I am not against moderate preferences based on ethnicity. However, I am against preferences which are so large that they make it unlikely that the recipient of the preference can succeed in challenging courses at the university.

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