Harvard released a set of considerations Tuesday for how philanthropic gifts are “considered, accepted, and administered within Harvard” in a first-of-its-kind gift policy guide.
The guide's central priorities include “upholding academic freedom” and “adhering to institutional values,” which Harvard defines as “respecting the rights, differences, and dignity of individuals,” “demonstrating honesty and fair play in all dealings,” and “pursuing excellence at all times.”
It also listed “avoiding conflicts of interest” that might undermine educational and research activities and “ensuring alignment and autonomy” between Harvard and donors as top priorities.
The University’s report on its ties to the late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey E. Epstein, released in early May, recommended Harvard develop clearer procedures on potentially controversial gifts.
“We recommend that the Gift Policy Committee be formally tasked with developing a set of written expectations that will expand the universe of gifts and donors who should be evaluated,” the report that accompanied the findings of the Epstein investigation read.
The Epstein report also suggested the creation of “triggering criteria” — such as the gift’s size, a donor’s lack of connection to Harvard, or “known concerns” regarding a potential donor’s actions — to bring certain gifts to the attention of the gift policy committee.
University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 told the Harvard Gazette, a University-run publication, that the decision to write the gift policy guide was prompted by “time of social change, with more calls for transparency and explanation in areas that did not come under close scrutiny before.”
“We wanted to share this guide to be accountable for and explicit about the principles that the University draws upon when it considers and accepts gifts,” Garber said.
The guide covers solicitation and acceptance of gifts, recognition of donors, management of funds, and the role of the Gift Policy Committee.
Vice President of Alumni Affairs and Development Brian K. Lee told the Gazette that the guide shares what Harvard “will and will not accept.” He also said the University will not solicit gifts from donors with family members vying for a place at Harvard.
“For example, gifts will not be solicited from donors and prospective donors who are known to have a family member applying for admission to Harvard,” Lee told the Gazette. “Similarly, if those same individuals were to offer an unsolicited gift, they would be advised that no gifts to the University should be made at that time.”
Documents and testimony from the lawsuit brought against Harvard by Students for Fair Admissions, though, revealed that familial financial contributions appear to boost individual applicants’ chances of admission.
The guide also grapples with naming and renaming funds, scholarships, physical spaces, collections, faculty positions, and other “vehicles” for donor recognition.
It notes “certain types of naming recognition” — including corporate recognition in residential spaces and the names of governments, sitting heads of state, and current Harvard faculty and staff — are prohibited.
The guide also states that the University “may choose to revoke naming recognition when the gift commitment supporting the naming has not been fulfilled, or where the donor’s actions are so outside the bounds of acceptable conduct, as judged by reference to prevailing societal norms, that continued use of the name is damaging to the interests of the University.”
The guide adds, however, that “prevailing societal norms ordinarily will be assessed at the time of the gift, not later.”
Harvard affiliates and activists have previously called on the University to remove or change the names of Harvard’s houses, museums, and academic buildings tied to former slave owners, racist historical figures, and various controversial individuals.
Still, the guide is not definitive, and Garber said that its “specific applications and interpretation may vary over time” since it is “intended to be a living document.”
He said the guide is not a set of rules that will exist independently from the Gift Policy Committee. Rather, he told the Gazette that it is intended to be “a companion to a process, one that is consultative and always capable of review and improvement.”
—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.
—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.