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University time horizons

February 19th, 2009 (09:53 am)

Every so often, I get reminded of something petmoosie pointed out to me around 20 years ago: universities have long planning horizons. This morning it was a story on WBUR about how the recession has affected Harvard's growth plans. Their endowment shrank 30% in the past year, which means they lost about ten billion dollars (a year ago, they had $34B). As a result, they're modifying their plans to expand into Allston (a nearby neighborhood of Boston), to take more time at it.

They interviewed the president of Harvard, who pointed out that taking an extra year or so didn't amount to all that much, because "this plan is a 50-year plan".

Think about that. This plan is so long-ranging that someone could start working on it fresh out of high school, and not be finished by the time they retire. But, by the time it finishes, it'll have taken only about 11% of Harvard's history.

As a side note: while I was in college, Northwestern's endowment reached one billion dollars. At the time, I remember boggling at the idea, and deciding they must be saving up to buy Evanston. (The town and the university do not get along—or, at least, they didn't in those days.) Well, last year, Northwestern was up to $7.2B. Boggle, boggle.

Comments

Posted by: dsrtao (dsrtao)
Posted at: February 19th, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC)

A coworked noted that Harvard has more continuity than any current government - Iceland's Althing was on hiatus from 1799 until 1844, and the Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707.

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: February 19th, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)

Mmm, any current national government, maybe. Massachusetts has arguably had the same government since 1620, even though it was part of no nation from 1776 to 1781.

Posted by: dsrtao (dsrtao)
Posted at: February 19th, 2009 06:06 pm (UTC)

Sure, national government. Otherwise, there are very likely town governments in India, China, and perhaps the Middle East that have been continuous since the invention of writing or so.

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: February 19th, 2009 06:07 pm (UTC)

Good point. MA was just the one that came to mind easily.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: February 19th, 2009 09:12 pm (UTC)

:-) The other thing you said was that churches were the same way—although most extant Christian sects these days are younger than Harvard.

Posted by: Alexx Kay (alexx_kay)
Posted at: February 19th, 2009 08:45 pm (UTC)

A friend of mine had a clerical job at Harvard once. She sometimes had to fill out forms when dealing with new vendors, and took great glee in filling out the "How long has your company been in business?" type questions.

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: February 19th, 2009 08:48 pm (UTC)

Heh.

Posted by: Hey You (martianfencer)
Posted at: February 22nd, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC)

Harvard actually has a forest that they planted in order to have mature wood ready to replace beams in certain buildings every hundred years or so.

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2009 02:40 pm (UTC)

And then there's the story about New College, Oxford, which turns out to be partly true.

Posted by: Hey You (martianfencer)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2009 08:57 pm (UTC)

Too bad the link to the New College website appears to be dead, because not one of the versions of the story -- including the "debunked" version I find -- goes back to the original source.

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2009 09:12 pm (UTC)

Yeah, I didn't find anything, either. At least the quoted text seems to be copied from the original source.

And the reformatted New College site doesn't appear to have a Trivia section at all.

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