Harvard Under Scrutiny
Harvard University, an institution that has a $40.9 billion endowment as of a recent estimate (it has likely shrunk since this last estimate), is known to have the largest endowment of any university in all the world. But that’s not news. What is news is that Harvard recently qualified for $8.6 million in stimulus funds from the federal government’s $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package passed by the U.S. Congress a few weeks back. Many, including President Trump, called for Harvard to give back the money the school qualified for under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. As President Trump said in a tweet, “Harvard should give back the money now. Their whole ‘endowment’ system should be looked at!”
Harvard Initially Resisted Pressure to Reject Stimulus Funds
Initially, Harvard resisted the pressure. As Tom Porter reports for Business Insider in a piece entitled “Harvard says it won’t be returning an $8 million stimulus check, even after Trump demanded it back,” “In a Tuesday statement, Harvard said the payment would not be used to cover institutional costs but to help students experiencing ‘urgent financial needs because of the pandemic.'” In fact, the university wrote that 100% of the funds would be allocated to meet these students’ needs.
Harvard Ultimately Bowed to Pressure to Reject Stimulus Funds
But then Stanford University, which qualified for about $7 million in funding, and Princeton University, which qualified for about $5 million in funding, announced they would not accept funds from the CARE Act. And so Harvard bowed to mounting pressure. As Daniel Ackerman reports for Business Insider in a piece entitled “Harvard is returning its $9 million stimulus check. Here’s why wealthy schools got millions while others are struggling to stay open,” “‘Harvard has decided not to seek or accept the funds allocated to it by statute,’ the school said in a statement. Though it referenced ‘significant financial challenges,’ it cited ‘the intense focus by politicians and others’ as undermining relief efforts.” Way to tell it like it is, Harvard!
Harvard’s Seeking of Stimulus Funds Isn’t So One-Sided
You see, it’s easy to paint Harvard as evil — as the rich trying to get richer. It’s easy to say Harvard has a multi-billion dollar endowment that the school can just draw from at will. But that’s false: Harvard cannot just take money from its endowment to cover whatever costs as needed. As Ackerman writes, “But a university endowment isn’t simply a rainy-day fund…Colleges can’t repurpose endowment money without permission from the state attorney general.” So while Harvard did bow to mounting pressure to not accept these funds that the institution qualified for under the CARES Act, the issue is a bit more complex than the rich (Harvard) getting unnecessarily richer with the aid of stimulus funds.
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