I e-mailed Kevin Carey, author of the Chronicle of Higher Education article that has sparked comment below, to ask if he’d like to respond to some of the criticisms of his article.
This is what he wrote (and many thanks to Mr. Carey for taking the time to respond):
It’s odd that, in the course of explaining why my argument is incoherent, Michael Mitzenmacher spends so much space offering evidence that supports it. I simply pointed out that Harvard has spent a lot more money on faculty without increasing the number of students faculty teach. I didn’t go into the details of how that happened, because you only get so many words in a column, But Mitzenmacher helpfully explains where the money went: more sabbaticals and the highest salaries in the nation. That’s good to know; it also reinforces my point. Why is increasing sabbatical time more important than giving more students a great education? To make Harvard “competitive with [its] peer institutions?” Really? Was that a big problem before? Were professorships sitting empty because Harvard couldn’t find anyone good to apply? I would have thought that being part of the most esteemed and well-paid faculty in the nation would have been enough.
It’s true, there was inflation. From 1990 to 2009, inflation as measured by the Consumer Priced Index grew 66 percent. The endowment (after the $10 billion loss) grew by about 575 percent.
Mitzenmacher questions whether “it is in the best interest of Harvard’s mission to increase its undergraduate enrollment.” But the institution’s mission isn’t written in stone somewhere. Indeed, the whole point of the column was to say that Harvard’s mission should be more undergraduate-focused than it is.
On financial aid: Harvard’s generous aid policies are better than the previous, less-generous policies. But making the university affordable for the low-income students you admit doesn’t mean a whole lot if you don’t admit very many low-income students. And you don’t: barely one student in ten qualifies for a federal Pell grant. It’s well-known that the university’s admissions policies are biased in favor of the children of wealthy alumni. A university as absurdly wealthy as Harvard isn’t forced to choose between admitting more lower-income students and giving them more financial aid; it could do both, if it wanted to. It just hasn’t wanted to. I think that’s a shame.