What Hath Harvard Wrought?

Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust lobbed a hand grenade into the foxhole of higher education yesterday when she announced at a press conference that the University would be giving away half of its $35 billion endowment over the next five years.  The reasons for this dramatic action?  One is lack of space.  Faust revealed that “our entire endowment is held in the form of cash, mainly in $10’s and $20’s, that is kept in an underground storage facility in Chicopee, Massachusetts.  We are simply running out of room for all this money, and we don’t want to purchase another facility. 

“The second reason is that we are so filthy, steaming rich that it’s starting to make our Board of Overseers nauseous, and this is a group that has always been comfortable with obscene wealth.  At our February Board meeting in Port-au-Prince, breakfast croissants were served on the same plates used by King Louis XIV at Versailles in 1684, and the filet mignon we had for dinner came from cattle that had graduated from Phillips Andover Academy.  After showering every morning, Board members dried themselves by rolling around naked in 17th-century porcelain bathtubs filled with tranquilized alpacas.  This level of luxury and indulgence is just unseemly, or at least it now feels that way to the Board.  So, we are going to do something about it.  In January 2018 Harvard will present the Governor of Puerto Rico with a check that will save the island from bankruptcy.  In April, we will celebrate National Library Week by paying the accumulated late fees of all patrons at the Boston Public Library.  And in July we will fund the production of the first feature-length action thriller focused on the plight of contingent faculty in the United States.  Entitled Non-Tenure Track,  it will star Nicole Kidman as a full professor at UC-Berkeley and Will Smith as her boyfriend, an adjunct who teaches at various community colleges in the Bay area.  When an 8.3 earthquake devastates the region, Smith’s 1984 Datsun slides into a newly created ravine in Oakland and leaves him at the mercy of a severely compromised public transportation system.  As he attempts to make his way to Kidman, who is trapped in a flooding steam tunnel underneath the Berkeley campus, Smith loses an arm to a leopard that has escaped from the San Francisco Zoo, which has been reduced to rubble.  Lacking health insurance, he must treat the injury with baby wipes.  When Smith finally reaches Kidman, she informs him that her parents would never allow her to be rescued by a man who is untenured, and they both drown in the steam tunnel.  All proceeds from this film will be used to purchase dry-erase markers for adjunct faculty nationwide.”

Reactions to Faust’s announcement from college and university leaders  around the country have been muted.  At Stanford, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said that Harvard’s decision was “a risky one,” but that he planned to see Non-Tenure Track when it was released.  Haywood Stensen, Interim Provost at Furry Lake Community College in Bozeman, Montana, remarked that “Harvard’s action is not really relevant to us; financially, they live in a different world.  I can access Furry Lake’s total endowment using the “Fast Cash” option at my local ATM.  But I’m definitely looking forward to checking out that movie.  Nicole Kidman rocks!