Q&A: Larry Summers Outreach Maverick Leader With Plans
To Expand Harvard?
Perry Gregg, Entry for harvardsf.org
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
San Francisco, California - At Harvard's 27th
president, Larry Summer's behest, Cooper, Robertson &
Partners, Gehry Partners and Olin Partnership were
hired as a team in July 2004 to develop a flexible
framework for Harvard's development in Allston, MA.
They expect to finalize the planning framework by the
end of the current academic year and it will be filed
with the City of Boston as part of the University's
new "Institutional Master Plan" proposal.
There are tours to sign up to see the transformation
to the 352 acres of land Harvard owns in Allston
including the possibility of a public transit line. [
Info is available by contacting
mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org . ] Who is going to
populate the expanded Harvard?
Rallying support for the Allston campus expansion
Harvard's President Summers, was in San Francisco the
evening of Nov 9th, 2005 for a dinner with Bay Area
alumni/ae downtown at the Marriott. As part of his
visit President Summers consented to an exclusive
interview with Perry Gregg answering questions on
Harvard's Outreach program. Before and after the
controversy surrounding Summers' remarks on gender
earlier this year, Summers has made "outreach"
statements and followed through changing policy and
plans at Harvard (Class of 2009 mostly women, campus
composition 40% minorities); actions arguably
indicating he is a maverick civil rights and
educational leader, one of the most exemplary Harvard
has seen. The following is a question and answer
discussion with President Summers.
* * *
"Our doors have long been open to talented students
regardless of financial need but many students simply
do not know or believe this. We are determined to
change both the perception and the reality."
- President L.H. Summers, February 29, 2004
[ http://www.admissions.college.harvard.edu/hfai/ ]
Question 1: Why does Harvard College want to change
"the perception and reality" of the doors being open
to these students? What metrics does Harvard use to
decide that they have an appropriate mix of students
for a given admitted Class year?
"Universities serve society in many ways and one of
the most important is by promoting equal opportunity.
It is a sad but true that today the most able poor
students are less likely to attend college than the
least able rich students and that in the Ivy League,
less than 10 percent of the students come from the
lower half of the income distribution.
Cutbacks in financial aid and decreasing access to
public higher education are exacerbating this trend.
At Harvard in order to counteract these trends and to
promote equal opportunity we instituted a new
financial aid initiative where students whose family
income is under $40,000 will not be asked for any
family contribution toward the cost of attending
We are looking for the most promising students that we
can find. There are not any targets or goals but it
is important that students wishing to attend Harvard
should not be limited by their financial
* * *
Question 2: Harvard College had an "uptick" in the
percentage of applicants that applied for the
application fee wavier for the Class of 2009
admissions cycle after you said this; implying that
more prospective students were starting to believe
Harvard was a possibility irrespective of financial
need. How is the plan going from your perspective?
"I mentioned that for this year's entering class of
undergraduates, parents in families with incomes of
less than $40,000 are no longer expected to contribute
to the cost of their children's Harvard education. We
have also reduced the contributions for families with
incomes between $40,000 and $60,000. These increases
in financial aid, coupled with an aggressive new
recruiting program staffed by current Harvard students
from low-income backgrounds, have increased by 22
percent the number of first-year students in the
qualifying income ranges. I am pleased, but we have
much work ahead of us if we are to maximize our
contribution to achieving equality of opportunity."
* * *
"We have also taken steps at the graduate level to
assure that students who wish to pursue careers in
public service are not deterred because of finances.
Last year we established a $14 million Presidential
Scholars program to fund top master's and doctoral
students choosing careers in fields such as education,
public health, and government service."
- President L.H. Summers, 2004
Question 3: How is the program for master's and
doctoral students working out? What about other
fields not covered by the $14 million dollar
Presidential Scholars program?
"We are placing special emphasis on strengthening
financial aid for outstanding graduate students in
fields where expected income is not high but expected
value to society is great. One consequence of
Harvard's "every tub on its own bottom" system, by
which individual Schools are largely responsible for
raising and managing their own resources, is that the
Schools whose students most need financial aid are
often those least able to provide it.
In recent years, we have taken several major steps
toward addressing this concern, including guaranteeing
fifth-year support for all Ph.D. students and
providing greater financial aid resources for Ph.D.
students generally, resulting in a substantial
increase in the yield rate in many of our Ph.D.
As you mentioned, we established the Presidential
Scholars program to provide financial support to
outstanding master's and doctoral students preparing
for careers in public service or in the academic
disciplines. Since launching the program in the
2003-04 academic year, we have allocated over $14.5
million to more than 200 graduate and professional
school students selected by their Schools. We are
currently in the process of extending and expanding
the program for future years.
We have also established a sub-prime interest rate
loan program for graduate students, domestic or
international, up to the cost of attendance at
Harvard, with loan volume now totaling approximately
In addition, the new Zuckerman and Reynolds
[Foundation?] fellowship programs, established this
past year, annually fund 46 master's and doctoral
students preparing for careers that serve society.
The University still has a long way to go toward
assuring that the most talented students are drawn
into careers that address our society's most important
needs, and we continue to have as a top priority
improving access to all of our Harvard programs for
talented students regardless of their financial
* * *
"In short, we need to recognize that the most serious
domestic problem in the United States today is the
widening gap between the children of the rich and the
children of the poor, and education is the most
powerful weapon we have to address that problem. Let
us make sure that the American dream is a possible
dream for every child in the nation."
- President L.H. Summers, 2004
Question 4: What can we do in San Francisco and the
Bay Area to help the children of the poor with
education and to preserve and sustain the American
"I think that the obvious answer is for people to get
involved in the civic and educational life of their
communities. There are many organizations that are
dedicated to improving the educational opportunities
for children from lower income families. They are
doing great work and I know that additional support is
* * *
Question 5: When you speak Nov. 9th, 2005 to San
Francisco and Bay Area alumni/ae, what will be your
message to them? Will you say anything about the
Outreach program and HFAI?
"I [p]lan on discussing how a university like Harvard
that is so fortunate -- in the remarkable students we
are able to attract, in the brilliance of our faculty,
in our physical and financial resources -- can best
serve not just our students and faculty but the larger
society, which understandably looks to universities to
make a positive difference in the world."
* * *
Question 6: It is true that admission to Harvard for
financially challenged students and families can make
a huge difference in their future. Isn't it also true
that Harvard needs the contribution of these students
to keep itself relevant, vibrant and on the leading
"This increase contributes to the diversity of
backgrounds and perspectives that has long brought
strength to our student body. With only about
one-sixth of the College's students coming from
families in the lower half of the American income
distribution, however, and indications of similar
patterns elsewhere in the University, as I said
earlier, we have much work ahead of us if we are to
maximize our contribution to achieving equality of
Increasing access to higher education is an area where
we should not be looking to "win." When Yale and
Princeton decided to adopt financial aid programs much
like ours, I thought it was terrific. Making progress
on these issues is an important challenge for all of
* * *
Question 7: The Harvard University Civil Rights
project this year put the Oakland, CA dropout rate at
potentially 52%. What are your thoughts about this?
"The study draws attention to the fact that we must
address the pipeline to higher education. One of the
ways Harvard is trying to address the issue in the
Boston area is through the Crimson Summer Academy -- a
program for disadvantaged students starting in the
ninth grade, through the summer after eleventh grade,
designed to prepare for admission to selective
colleges. Welcoming students into this program was as
rewarding as any experience that I've had at Harvard
in the last year. I believe that programs like this
one can make a great contribution to promoting equal
opportunity in this country."
* * *
Question 8: What changes at Harvard these days make
you most proud?
"I think I'm proudest of the immense variety of ways
in which people at Harvard are making a difference."
Larry Summers closed his remarks to the grads that
evening at the lectern in San Francisco by saying if
we are going to error let it be while we are doing too
much not too little.
Perry Gregg can be reached at email@example.com .
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