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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal

Scholarly Sale

September-October 2007

The $50-million challenge fund established by the University Development Office in February 2006 to stimulate the endowment of professorships has, through early July, yielded 16 endowed professorships and 6 faculty-development funds—about double the usual level of such support. Beyond that “heartening” absolute result, Robert Cashion, acting vice president for alumni affairs and development, said the challenge fund has benefited many parts of the University, as its founders intended.

Under the terms of the challenge, donors who give $3 million toward an endowed chair can have that sum matched with $1 million from the fund, meeting the price for naming a Harvard professorship. Donors who give $1.5 million toward a faculty-development fund (which schools can use for junior-faculty salaries, research support, the expense of fitting up a laboratory, graduate-student support, or other essentials of maintaining a faculty position) can qualify for $500,000 of matching money. The hope, over time, was to encourage endowing as many as 40 new professorships and perhaps half that many development funds; the experience so far is tracking that projection.

Among the chairs funded, according to Cashion and Sarah Clark, deputy director of the University Development Office, are a professorship in South Asian studies, a joint appointment in child health and development at the schools of education and of public health, and a neuroscience chair at Harvard Medical School. Development officers at the schools are “pleased,” Cashion said, because the challenge fund represents “an enormous opportunity to talk to their donors about the importance of the faculty and the teaching and research they undertake” as a principal University priority.

Named financial-aid funds do not require such large gifts, Cashion said, and of course many supporters are already attracted to making a Harvard education more accessible to qualified students. By focusing attention on professorships, he said, the challenge fund provides another way to talk about “investment in the human capital of the University—pairing the best faculty and the best students.”

The timing and scope of the fund may have proved especially important. It was announced five days before the resignation of President Lawrence H. Summers—the culmination of a period of turmoil that has delayed Harvard’s next capital campaign. The budget of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) has already fallen into the red, in large part because of the aggressive expansion of its professorial ranks (long a strategic goal that is critical to teaching and to growth in the sciences and engineering), making it more urgent to attract support for those new positions. Although Harvard Business School has just completed a $600-million campaign, and Harvard Law School is engaged in a slightly smaller drive, most of the other schools have needs and ambitions similar to FAS’s. The challenge fund, for which all schools except business and law are eligible, is thus an important focus for fundraising while President Drew Faust assembles her new team of deans and vice presidents and makes broader capital-campaign plans.

Among the commitments made so far are 10 professorships in FAS, one in divinity, two each in education and medicine, and the joint education-public health chair. Clark said the Kennedy School of Government and the Graduate School of Design are both engaged in discussions to support new professorships using the challenge fund. The faculty-development funds have been created in FAS (three), public health (two), and divinity (one).

Major supporters of the challenge fund include Charles J. Egan Jr. ’54 and Mary Bowersox Egan ’55 and the Stanley H. Durwood Foundation; Alphonse Fletcher Jr. ’87; J. Christopher Flowers ’79 and Mary H. White; University treasurer James F. Rothenberg ’68, M.B.A. ’70, and Anne Fitzpatrick Rothenberg; Brian D. Young ’76 and Anne T. Young; and an anonymous donor. At least three of these supporters had previously seen first-hand the value of endowing a professorship. Fletcher created a University Professorship now held by African-American studies scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. Flowers and White created a UniversityProfessorship named in honor of his parents, now held by chemist George M. Whitesides. And the Rothenbergs had created two humanities chairs.

Reporting to the Harvard Alumni Association at Commencement on June 7, in his capacity as Treasurer of the University, Rothenberg noted in passing that the professorship challenge was proving successful. He did not dwell on the details, nor hint of his personal involvement. But no doubt his long career in finance (he is president of Capital Research and Management, adviser to the enormous American Funds group of mutual funds) gave him an appreciation of this new demonstration that even when it comes to a $4-million professorship, people love a bargain.