In Harvard Magazine, John Rosenberg writes about the issues facing the Harvard Corporation with his usual eloquence, thoughtfulness and tact.
But make no mistake: In the piece, titled “Self Improvement—On Harvard Governance and Management,” Rosenberg poses some questions for the Corporation fellows to consider that carry real weight—and some major , if implicit criticisms.
Some of the questions he asks:
Is the Corporation also discussing how the Faculty of Arts and Sciences came to rely on endowment distributions for 54 percent of its revenues—and how the Law School has leveraged itself to pay for its huge new building?
…As [the Corporation] attends to the long-term health of the institution, might it determine that its members’ terms should be better staggered relative to the tenure of any Harvard president…?
And some of the points he makes:
…The useful aspects of the president’s overarching report have been lost as it has been reduced to a vestigial cover letter in the annual financial statement.
[Blogger: That is a wonderful use of the word "vestigial." I am jealous.]
…The Harvard University Financial Report can be as opaque as it is illuminating.
….Harvard, a private entity, is not required to disclose such [financial and planning] matters. But such transparency—increasingly expected of diverse institutions—might help illuminate problems or opportunities, and engender support for University goals.
That quiet aside within the m-dashes—”increasingly expected of diverse institutions”—is the kicker. Quiet, but powerful.
Also powerful is Rosenberg’s use of argument by example—as, for example, when he discusses how [every?] other universities’ corporate boards are more transparent than Harvard’s.
The Yale Daily News routinely features detailed accounts of that institution’s weekend corporation meetings, based on a briefing from President Richard Levin; in a late-February dispatch, the newspaper reported his account of discussions of tuition, budget reductions, healthcare legislation and the medical school, undergraduate housing and curriculum, and library issues—complete with the identities of the Yale officials who addressed each matter.
I wonder: Would Bob Rubin ever permit that level of transparency? It is not in his nature.
I’ve often thought that Rosenberg is an enormous asset to Harvard: He poses important questions in a way that is difficult for the establishment to ignore.
If the Corporation chooses to ignore this essay, and fails to act on at least some of its recommendations, it is making a very large mistake.