Is the current litigation against Harvard University hurting the school’s ability to attract donations? The answer is, at least for now, unknown. The federal trial has shined a lantern on how certain donors, namely major donors with strong ties to the university can positively impact the candidacies of their children who are applying for admission. Of course, we’ve been articulating all of this for years on the pages of our college admissions blog but, hey, the more public scrutiny the better — in our view. But that’s unlikely the view of Harvard, a school that doesn’t wish to lay bare the preferential treatment the children of donors receive in the admissions process.
Preferential Treatment to the Children of Major Harvard Donors
As reports Eli W. Burnes and Andrew J. Zucker for “The Harvard Crimson” in a piece entitled “Harvard Admissions Trial Could Affect Donations — But Experts Are Divided Over How,” “The lawsuit has revealed many once-hidden details about how Harvard admits students. Among other revelations, documents released in court showed that the University gives significant admissions preferences to children of wealthy donors. These applicants — whom the College places into two selective groups dubbed the ‘dean’s list’ and ‘director’s list’ — see an acceptance rate nine times higher than the overall rate.” Yes, nine times.
Harvard’s President Claims Not to Track Donations
The children of major donors receiving preferential treatment in admissions surely doesn’t surprise our reader base. What may surprise them is the lengths Harvard’s current president will go to essentially argue that he doesn’t really, well, track donations. As Burnes and Zucker write, “University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in an interview last week he could not quantify the donations Harvard receives from alumni whose children benefited from these admissions preferences. ‘I honestly don’t know the answer to that and, even if I did, I probably couldn’t say it right now given that the case is in trial,’ he said. Asked whether Harvard has seen an uptick in donations in light of this revelation, University President Lawrence S. Bacow again declined to comment. ‘I couldn’t tell you,’ he said. Bacow said that he does not receive frequent updates on donations. ‘It’s not as if we monitor donations on daily basis,’ he said. ‘I don’t get a daily report. Or a weekly report. Or a monthly report.'”
Of course, we’re simply not buying it. One of the key tasks of any university president, particularly an Ivy League president, is to solicit major donations. Is Harvard’s leader, the leader of a university with the highest school endowment in all the world, really trying to make the case that he doesn’t find the time to monitor monetary gifts to the school? Our readers weren’t born yesterday. Does Harvard’s new president really expect us to accept he hardly monitors donations? Oh Larry, that’s silly.
Most Misunderstand What a Major Donation to Harvard Means
And a last word on donations to Harvard. More and more folks have been reaching out to us in recent weeks with questions like this: “How much do I have to donate to get my child into Harvard?” Our eyes roll, typically twice for good measure, before we respond. No amount of money can buy one’s child’s way into Harvard, a school — we repeat — with the largest endowment of any university in the world. And certainly not the amount of money many of these folks have in mind. In short, Harvard absolutely offers preferential treatment to the children of major donors. But major is the key word here. And these donors typically are folks with strong ties to the university — they’re not folks coming out of the woodwork just to game the system for their children. These people just don’t seem to get it.