How Allston planning hit Harvard's endowment

Endowment Director Is on Harvard’s Hot Seat -
One she might not have anticipated was the intense pressure caused by the Allston expansion, according to one person with knowledge of the endowment. Several years ago, the university had envisioned an ambitious capital expansion program stretching for more than a decade. Lawrence H. Summers, then Harvard’s president, had raised the possibility of locking in interest rates that appeared to be at historic lows, a plan the university adopted, said several people familiar with the endowment.

All went well at first. But in the second half of last year, interest rates plummeted, and Harvard turned to the endowment to meet hefty collateral calls, which could rise to $1 billion if rates remain weak, according to a person with knowledge of the university. According to a statement Friday from James R. Rothenberg, treasurer of the university, Harvard has taken a series of steps to reduce the risk associated with the transaction.


  1. So maybe Harvard's decision to stop construction in Allston wasn't because they didn't like the tone of us "little Che Guevaras" on the Task Force (as one anonymous blogger was kind enough to put it). Maybe they were more persuaded by the fact that their totally over-leveraged investments were requiring billion-dollar collateral payments, while their endowment itself is still pointed down toward some unknown bottom. The point is that Harvard knows where its real interests lie, and we need to do the same: not making nice to Harvard in the hope that they'll return the favor, but holding them accountable as land-owners and land-bankers for the damage their poorly managed expansion has done to our community.

  2. Anonymous12:04 PM

    Actually, Harvard pulled out of the art building and pulled back on Brighton Mills long before the endowment took its current hit. The endowment's decline has affected the Science Center, the one building that we moderates had hoped was insulated from unreasonable carping.

    I do think we need to keep an eye on the neighborhood's interests. I also think that those interests have been very poorly served by critics who treat Harvard an implacable enemy, a monster whose every move is suspicious.

    Many of Harvard's suggestions make sense, both for them and us. But you'd never know that if you judged by the stream of abusive quotes that many of our "community leaders" fire off.

    I think we moderates have to start speaking up at community meetings. The extremists have had their day.

  3. It is easy for people named "anonymous" to fill up blog space with innuendo and pseudo-facts, but harder to get at the realities. I would just raise these questions about the previous post:
    1) "...hoped was insulated from unreasonable carping ...": this again seems to suggest that the Science Complex was impaired or delayed by community response (aka "carping")--but is there any reason to think that project was in any way "uninsulated" or adversely affected by the community review process?
    2) Harvard "pulled back on Brighton Mills": in what sense was Harvard ever going forward with any development in Brighton Mills, other that its invisible partnership with Charlesview, which as far as we know is still on track?
    3) Harvard's suggestions "make sense": my impression is that Harvard has been quite general in its campus planning so far, and largely silent about the community-wide plan and its intentions for its holdings west of Barry's Corner. So which of their suggestions "make sense"? (I and others have supported their 'green' principles, the beginnings of an 'educational partnership,' and more--but have we 'extremists' shot down any specific proposals that "made sense"?)
    We may disagree, but it's hard to know without putting more accurate and specific facts on the table for discussion.

  4. To the anonymous commenter whose comment I just deleted:

    This a forum for respectful, constructive conversation. Feel free to comment again if you would like to post a respectful and constructive comment.

  5. wellbasically11:40 PM

    brent seems to be right, in fact it would be amazing if the residents' efforts made a tiny dent in Harvards' plans.

    I talked to a couple friends who have taught at Harvard, and they gave me some small insights into the institutional mindset. One said that Harvard believes it is helping the world by walling itself off and publishing from behind the wall. The second said that Harvard is helping the world by making the rich people richer, because the rich are the only ones who know how to help the poor.