With a $35 billion endowment, how should Harvard spend its money?

Boston Globe columnist Steven Syre asks some important questions in his column today:
With a $35 billion endowment, how should Harvard spend its money? - The Boston Globe

"And what about the university's neighbors?" he asks, and then continues "institutions, like people, have an obligation to think about the well-being of their neighbors, and that goes double for the well-off."

The people who live in Allston absolutely think about the well-being of their neighbors. But it is important to recognize the difference between how neighbors in Allston and Brighton can help each other and how it works elsewhere.

It seems pretty well established that Boston and Massachusetts don't have the money to provide many of the services and amenities that are important to many people who live here. To fill this void, organizations have been created to raise money and make improvements that otherwise would not happen. The Esplande Association is a great example. Founded in 2001, The Esplanade Association has done wonderful things for the Charles River alongside the Back Bay neighborhood. In 2005 they had revenue of $455,000 that was able to support their good deeds.

The Esplanade Association isn't alone in being able to raise a significant amount of money from private sources. Also in 2005 the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay had $256,000 of revenue and the Friends of the Public Garden brought in $1.8 million dollars. So these three neighborhood groups had combined revenues of more than two and 1/2 million dollars, and I am sure there are many others with smaller but still significant operations. It is wonderful that many people are so generous and giving of their time to make these organizations as capable as they are.

In a more working-class neighborhood like Allston and Brighton, we don't have many neighbors with the resources of a Chris Gabrieli who can make major contributions to local good causes. If the Allston Civic Association or Brighton Allston Improvement Association asked people to pay a membership fee, I doubt they would bother with a $1000 Sponsor level.

We do have neighbors with tremendous physical, intellectual, and financial resources, they just happen to be universities instead of private individuals. We also have problems and needs similar to our wealthier neighbors elsewhere in Boston - clean and safe streets, well-maintained parks, good schools...

We can keep writing and talking about the "double" obligation of the "well-off" to think about their neighbors, but something has to change at City Hall or Harvard Yard before we are going to see any results.

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