Letter to Alumni From Past Presidents of the Harvard Board of Overseers
February 15, 2016
Dear Friends and Fellow Alumni,
We write to you as past Presidents of the Harvard Board of Overseers to urge that you participate in this year’s election for the Board of Overseers. This year’s election is particularly important to the future of Harvard because a slate of five alumni has petitioned to join this year’s ballot in support of an ill-advised platform that would elevate ideology over crucial academic interests of the University. Under the banner “Free Harvard, Fair Harvard,” these five alumni propose “the immediate elimination of all tuition for undergraduates,” including those whose families can afford to pay full tuition. They also suggest that Harvard’s admissions practices are “corrupt” and that Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants.
The proposal to eliminate tuition for all undergraduates is misguided. Harvard’s financial aid program, among the most generous in the country, already ensures that Harvard is affordable for all students. Roughly twenty percent of Harvard undergraduates—those whose parents earn less than $65,000—already attend free of cost. Students from families earning between $65,000 and $150,000 receive a financial aid package designed to ensure that no family is asked to pay more than ten percent of its income. And hundreds of students from families earning more than $150,000 receive financial aid. In total, more than seventy percent of undergraduates receive some form of aid.
Harvard’s focus on affordability also ensures that tuition from those who can afford to pay continues to provide a significant source of funding for Harvard’s extraordinary educational programs. It simply does not make sense to forego this considerable sum in order to make tuition free for students whose families can afford to pay. Although the candidates propose that free tuition could be funded by Harvard’s endowment, that simplistic premise fails to recognize that the endowment must be maintained in perpetuity and that much of it consists of restricted gifts. Rather than eliminating tuition, Harvard should continue to ensure that the cost of attendance remains affordable, and we have full confidence that the administration is committed to this important goal.
The allegations of corruption and discrimination in admissions are wholly unfounded, and mirror allegations raised in a lawsuit filed against Harvard by activists who seek to dismantle Harvard’s longstanding program to ensure racial and ethnic diversity in undergraduate admissions. In reality, Harvard’s admissions process—which considers each applicant as a whole person—has long been a model for undergraduate admissions at universities around the country. The current admissions policies ensure that Harvard maintains a diverse student body with a range of talents and experiences that enriches the experience of all students on campus. President Faust has recently reaffirmed Harvard’s “commitment to a widely diverse student body,” and has stated that Harvard will pursue a “vigorous defense of [its] procedures and ... the kind of educational experience they are intended to create.” We fully endorse her commitment to defending diversity.
Ballots for this year’s Overseers election will be mailed by April 1, and must be received by May 20. The Harvard Alumni Association has already proposed a slate of eight strong candidates for the Board of Overseers with a wide range of talents and expertise. We urge you to consider their candidacies carefully and to select the five candidates whom you think will best serve the interests of Harvard in the years to come. The candidates running on the “Free Harvard, Fair Harvard” slate, while accomplished individuals, are committed to a platform that would disserve the interests of the University about which we all care deeply.
Morgan Chu, J.D. ’76, Partner, Irell & Manella LLP (2014-2015)
Leila Fawaz, Ph.D. ‘79, Professor, The Fletcher School, Tufts (2011-2012)
Frances Ferguson, Ph.D ’73, BI ’75 President emerita, Vassar (2007-2008)
Richard Meserve, J.D. ’75, President emeritus, Carnegie Institution for Science (2012-2013)
David Oxtoby ’72, President Pomona (2013-2014)