In the wake of the “Varsity Blues” admissions scandal (which did not touch Harvard) and gifts from Jeffrey Epstein (which assuredly did: see “Jeffrey Epstein’s Extensive Reach,” July-August, page 27), the University has promulgated a new gift policy. Discussing it with The Harvard Gazette, Provost Alan Garber, chair of the University gift policy committee (the referee for specific donations), referred obliquely to “more calls for transparency and explanation in areas that did not come under close scrutiny before,” but also cited the need “to be responsive to concerns that have become more prominent recently.”
Among those matters is untangling any unseemly overlap of admissions and donations, according to vice president for alumni affairs and development Brian Lee, who told the Gazette: “[G]ifts will not be solicited from donors and prospective donors who are known to have a family member applying for admission to Harvard. Similarly, if those same individuals were to offer an unsolicited gift, they would be advised that no gifts…should be made at that time.”
The new policy aims to address “the manner in which philanthropic gifts are considered, accepted, and administered within Harvard” (thus addressing several deficiencies uncovered in Harvard’s internal Epstein investigation). For example, it strongly states the primacy of academic freedom (thus, endowing a chair does not confer the power to name who holds it), and the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest (soliciting gifts that advance a donor’s business interests rather than Harvard’s academic ones).
In the case of corporate philanthropy, large gifts and naming gifts require gift-policy committee review, and solicitations of corporate donors require development-services review. Also emphasized: donors cannot require the University to “prevent funds from being used to pay overhead, indirect costs, or administrative costs.” (Subsequent language explains assessments routinely made to cover the “associated overhead costs” of gift-supported activities, such as information technology, facilities operation, academic planning, and human resources.) Moreover, “Harvard will not accept a gift anonymously that it would not accept publicly. Corporations are not granted anonymity.”
The six-page summary text of the policy is posted at https://alumni.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/page/files/Gift_Policy_Guide_Overview.pdf.
As the Harvard community assesses the new University commitment to a carbon-neutral endowment (by 2050, the assets would yield no net greenhouse gases), and alumni voters consider a slate of Board of Overseers candidates who are committed to divesting investments in fossil-fuel producers ( “Addressing Climate Change,” July-August, page 26), two peer institutions are making major academic commitments concerning climate change.
On May 21, Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne announced the formation of a school focused on climate and sustainability, for which plans will be complete this fall. Vice provost and dean of research Kathryn Moler described “an exciting opportunity to engage everyone addressing climate and sustainability at Stanford in a newly expanded, integrated and impact-focused community,” drawing upon current work in basic science, “low-carbon sustainable energy, human behavior, economics, food security, environmental law and policy, global health, and more.” The school will offer undergraduate and graduate degrees, and will aim to “infuse sustainability in the education of all” Stanford students.
On July 10, the Columbia Climate School —that institution’s first new school in a quarter-century—was unveiled by university president Lee Bollinger. It will hire faculty, grant degrees, and foster research, building upon existing units and resources including the Earth Institute, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the Center for Climate Systems Research, and more, and extending to faculty expertise across disciplines in other Columbia schools. Bollinger cited current expertise in climate modeling and forecasting, and the goal of developing proficiency in new fields (food security, for one), all with the aim of “tak[ing] on in a scholarly way—as only a great university can—an area of tremendous public attention and increasing concern, as enduring as anything else we might conceive of. Like the problem itself, this effort may seem daunting, but it is most certainly a moment for institutional pride.”
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