Is Harvard Going Broke?

Last Updated Jul 10, 2009 5:03 PM EDT

Is Harvard going broke?
It's a provocative question, but Harvard's decimated endowment and its long-time spending binge is forcing the academic Goliath to confront the biggest financial crisis of its 373-year history.

If you've been struggling to live within a budget, you probably won't have much sympathy for Harvard, which apparently thought that budgeting was an inconvenience for mere mortals.

An article in the August issue of Vanity Fair, highlights some of Harvard's shopaholic spending. This factoid really stuck in my brain: From 2000 to 2008, Harvard built an additional 6.2 million square feet of space on its Cambridge campus. This extra room represents more space than the Pentagon occupies!

So how's Harvard cutting back?

Students living in the dorms will no longer get hot breakfasts on the weekdays. Imagine that. You make it into Harvard and you can't even wolf down scrambled eggs before class. Also, students and profs will likely be wearing sweaters in class during the winter months since the thermostats are being lowered.

But those are picayune examples of belt tightening compared to what lays ahead:

Radical change is coming to Harvard. Fewer professors for one thing. Fewer teaching assistants, janitors, and support staff. Shuttered libraries. Less money for research and travel and books. Cafes replaced by vending machines. Junior varsity sports teams down graded to clubs. No raises. No bonuses. No fresh coats of paint or new carpets. Overflowing trash cans.
Since misery loves company, the Harvard mess might lift your spirits if you're trying to live within your means. And if you're a teenager, who thinks that Harvard represents the ultimate acceptance letter, you might want to add to your list some schools that still serve waffles for breakfast.

Harvard Square image by Chaval Brasil. CC 2.0.