Candidates Call for “Free Harvard, Fair Harvard” in 2016 Board of Overseers Election

Posted By Eliana Osborn on February 10, 2016 at 9:25 am
Candidates Call for “Free Harvard, Fair Harvard” in 2016 Board of Overseers Election
John Harvard Statue in front of University Hall at Harvard

Financial aid at Harvard already covers 100% of tuition and fees, plus room and board, for families making less than $65,000 per year.  For incomes up to $150,000, students pay less than 10% of that figure for their costs.  Some alumni think this isn’t going far enough.

Free Harvard, Fair Harvard’ is the proposal from five men running for seats on the Harvard Board of Overseers.  Ron Unz, three other conservatives, and Ralph Nader have a two-pronged proposal.  One aspect of FHFH concerns race-based admissions, particularly for Asian-American students.

The second scheme concerns finances.  Unz writes on his website, “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.”

Harvard has a $38 billion investment portfolio, one of the largest hedge funds in the country.  According to FHFH, the proceeds of investment income are 25 times higher than what Harvard brings in as net tuition revenue.  For a student paying the list price, four years of undergraduate tuition at Harvard cost $180,000.

Why make Harvard free for all students, even those coming from wealthy backgrounds?  FHFH sees the issue in two ways.  First, that the amount of money pulled in from tuition is negligible compared to other revenue sources.  Second, a public relations sort of move making it clear to all Americans that a Harvard education is a possibility.

“Academically-successful students from all walks of life would suddenly begin to consider the possibility of attending Harvard. Other very wealthy and elite colleges such Yale, Princeton, and Stanford would be forced to follow Harvard’s example and also abolition tuition,” says the FHFH manifesto.

According to a Reuters report in September 2015, Harvard’s endowment investments already pay for close to one-third of their operating budget.  Like most funds, Harvard investments were hard hit by the recession and lost nearly 30% of value.  With recent gains, the fund is back up close to 2008 levels.

Harvard students responded to Free Harvard, Fair Harvard proposals by imagining what they would do with the $60,000 not going to tuition.  Coffee seems to rank high on their list.  They aren’t the only ones talking about Unz and his group; media coverage has been high in the aftermath of their announcement.  Whether the idea of a tuition free Harvard becomes a reality depends on who is elected to the Board of Overseers and how other alumni respond.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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