Meritocracy: Will Harvard Become Free and Fair?

As many of you already know, I recently launched the “Free Harvard/Fair Harvard” campaign, aimed at electing a slate of five candidates to the Harvard Board of Overseers on a platform of (1) increasing the transparency of today’s opaque and abuse-ridden admissions process and (2) immediately eliminating undergraduate tuition as being unnecessary given the huge size of the endowment.

Although scarcely a single individual in America was aware of our plans until five or six weeks ago, our momentum has been enormous, and the New York Times ran a (somewhat suspiciously-minded) front-page story about our reformist campaign on Friday, which quickly sparked additional stories in the London Telegraph, the Harvard Crimson, New York Magazine, Time Magazine, and several other publications, along with considerable international coverage in Spanish, Turkish, and Chinese media outlets.

Harvard is the world’s wealthiest and most prestigious university, and if it were suddenly to abolish tuition under the pressure of a referendum vote of its 320,000 alumni, the resulting earthquake in the global academic community would have aftershocks far and wide. Indeed, some of Harvard’s most eminent scholars have already dropped me supportive notes, questioning the absurd rise of tuition at their own institution and at other universities over the past few decades, and very much hoping that our campaign might succeed in reversing this trend.

Certainly, Harvard hardly needs the money. Embedded below is a striking chart, showing the relative size of Harvard’s sources of income in recent years, with the annual investment earnings from its mammoth endowment regularly averaging some twenty-five times larger than the net tuition revenue from its college students. As I stated in my late 2012 article “Paying Tuition to a Giant Hedge Fund” Harvard has quietly become one of the world’s largest hedge-funds, with its aggressively managed $38 billion portfolio shielded from all taxation because of the small educational institution it continues to run as a charity off to one side.

Adding to the attention of our bold campaign has been the strange-bedfellows ideological alliance of our slate of five candidates for Harvard Overseer. Both I and Lee Cheng, co-founder of the Asian-American Legal Foundation, are generally characterized as conservatives. Stuart Taylor, Jr., who has spent decades as a prominent journalist and legal commentator, is usually considered a political moderate, although the Brookings Institution with which he has long been affiliated perhaps leans a bit more liberal. Stephen Hsu, Professor of Theoretical Physics and Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies at Michigan State, is very much a moderate academic liberal, whose blogsite has for years proudly featured photos of his meetings with President Obama. And Ralph Nader, headlining our slate, is surely one of the most renowned political progressives of the last half century.

It is also far from coincidental that two of the five members of our slate are Asian-Americans. Several years ago I published strong statistical evidence for the existence of an “Asian Quota” at Harvard and the other Ivy League universities, prompting The New York Times to run a symposium on the topic, which attracted enormous attention and commentary.

Naturally, Harvard and its peers ignored these complaints, and just a few months ago The Economist ran a lengthy survey on the issue of Asian Quotas, updating my results and showing that nothing had changed. Add to this the massive pattern of corrupt and abusive admissions practices at elite colleges—documented by Pulitzer Prize winner Daniel Golden in his book The Price of Admission—and it is obvious that only the disinfecting sunlight of admissions transparency would restore our own alma mater and its peers to the academic integrity that is absolutely necessary for their continued existence. And only the external pressure of a successful campaign for seats on the Harvard Board of Overseers could achieve this result.

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