Friday, May 09, 2008

Time for Harvard to Move?

The Wall Street Journal reports one of the most pernicious ideas I have heard of late:

Massachusetts legislators, demonstrating a growing resentment against the wealth of elite universities in tight economic times, are studying a plan to levy a 2.5% annual tax on the portion of college endowments that exceed $1 billion.

The effort takes aim at one of the primary economic engines of the state, which is home to nine universities with endowments that surpass the $1 billion level, led by Harvard University's $35 billion cache, the nation's largest....

Supporters said the proposal would raise $1.4 billion a year. Based on the most recent size of Harvard's endowment, the university would have to shell out more than $840 million annually.

If this were to pass, here is what I would consider:

1. Instead of expanding the university into Alston, Harvard could create a second campus in another state. Call it Harvard South. (Put it in a better climate than Boston, and I would be one of the first faculty to volunteer for the move.)

2. Transfer much of the endowment to Harvard South. Support Harvard North by slowly selling off land in Massachusetts.

3. Eventually, make Harvard South the main campus, and Harvard North the satellite. If Massachusetts state lawmakers remain hostile, close Harvard North down entirely.

I have often wondered what the efficient scale of a university is and, in particular, whether it would be better to create a second Harvard with the university's wealth than to expand the first one. Maybe the Massachusetts state legislature will give the powers-that-be at Harvard an incentive to consider more radical expansion plans.

Update: here.