Education and Money

Ivory Tower No More: Endowments like Harvard’s Mask Donor Control

Endowments encourage universities to behave like profit-driven corporations

Daniel Dalla Vedova

December 7, 2022

The Harvard endowment system encourages the university to behave like a profit-driven corporation rather than a public, educational amenity. 

To consider whether the University should behave like a corporation, I looked at its mission statement. “The mission of Harvard College is to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society.” This aspiration feels modest for a supposedly top-tier school like Harvard. The College wants to educate citizens. A hint of its clout appears in the confounding phrase “citizen-leaders” which it seems to differentiate from “citizens.”

A quick Google search of the term gives a series of links to self-help style books including one by Peter Alduino, who looks like he walked out of a Just for Men commercial, called The Citizen Leader: Be the Person You’d Want to Follow. On his very 2000s website, the silver fox defines a citizen-leader as “each one of us, the man, the woman, the young adult, even the teen who pauses to take stock of the kind of world that they — that we — want to help shape for the people we care about, and then acts to make it so.” That sounds nice. Since the University does not use the term anywhere else, Harvard College’s mission must be to educate citizens and “each one of us.” Use that logic on your admissions letter, high schoolers. 

Harvard is looking out for all of us, from the pool-lounging SoCal elite to the grease-stained Eritrean child laborer.

In any case, the University purports to educate not people, the public, or the world, but citizens and citizen-leaders. I am not a U.S. citizen, but I attended Harvard Law School. Perhaps, Harvard has a more global understanding of citizenry. Harvard is looking out for all of us, from the pool-lounging SoCal elite to the grease-stained Eritrean child laborer.

Now, why should a U.S. University market itself as an educator of the global citizenry? If its goal were to educate as many U.S. children as possible and better the country, it should likely focus on domestic talent. Harvard is not a U.S. public amenity though. It is a global brand that seeks customers from across the world. Of the 35,276 students at Harvard College, 826 of them are international students who hail from over 100 countries. This number explodes to 9,977 when you consider all the graduate schools. Harvard College clearly does not consider international undergraduates to be as worthy of its educational mission as graduate students who have already proven themselves abroad. The number of international students multiplies by over ten from the College to the graduate schools.