Campus & Community

Faust takes the long view

3 min read

President underscores Harvard’s priorities in discussion with Boston business leaders

President Drew Faust today (Oct. 22) underscored Harvard’s commitment to its core teaching, research, and leadership roles in a time of unprecedented economic challenges, and said the University continues to see the Allston campus as an integral part of its future.

That does not mean the University isn’t rethinking its financial strategies going forward, Faust said. But “if we are to continue to lead, we must always make sure we are confronting the new questions requiring exploration. We simply do not have the luxury of turning back the clock or standing still,” she told the crowd of 150 business leaders at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Executive Forum.

“Our challenge is to determine the appropriate pace at which to advance,” Faust said, “to make sure we are always ready to pursue the newest discovery, the most important intellectual and pedagogical work.”

So while the University’s endowment now “stands where it was in 2005, simply pressing the ‘reset’ button to an earlier time is not an option for us,” the president told the packed breakfast meeting at the Boston Marriott Copley Place hotel. “The judgments we are making now about the pace of our future growth must be built upon a foundation of both solid academic planning and present economic realities.

“But as we wrestle with these difficult questions, we will not lose sight of the obligation that we and our fellow institutions have to train the next generation of leaders in every major field of endeavor,” she said. “For although we rarely speak in these terms, we educate your doctors; we educate your ministers; we educate your lawyers, and your teachers, and your scientists, your novelists, and your poets. And we, and they, are part of a local ecosystem that’s often referred to as a ‘supercluster’ of innovation that will lead the economy forward.”

The University’s growth in Allston remains a key to the future, in partnership with the Boston-Cambridge community, Faust stressed. Responding to a question from Chamber President and CEO Paul Guzzi, Faust said the Allston campus is “an extraordinary treasure for Harvard, and it is the future of Harvard. The changed economic circumstances have had an impact on the pace” of Harvard’s Allston development, she acknowledged, but said that “our ultimate goal of having the Allston spaces be an integral part of Harvard University, that has not changed. Our commitment to the Allston community, that has not changed.”

What has changed in the wake of the greatest financial upheaval since the 1930s, and an $11 billion drop in the value of Harvard’s endowment, is the meaning of “risk” in the altered financial environment.

“We’ve learned some very significant lessons, along with other institutional investors,” Faust said. Harvard and other institutions have learned that risk has a different meaning than a year ago. They see “risk as much broader in its implications” than before the downturn.