A Texas Civil Rights Review Editorial
Please see our update on how, despite what this editorial argues, Harvard and Stanford students were hounded out of the COVID-19 emergency relief program.
Harvard University has addressed critics who think the university should not be getting money for COVID-19 relief. In a statement quoted Monday evening by the Boston Herald, Harvard makes it clear that the money will be disbursed entirely for student aid.
The attack on the Harvard funding was poorly informed in the first place, and it was poorly timed.
The controversy over the funding was fueled earlier Monday by a Huffington Post headline that read: “Harvard, America’s Richest University, Grabs Nearly $9 Million In Taxpayer CARES Aid.”
The word “grabs” gives an impression that Harvard made some special effort to secure its share of a $12.5 billion relief package for higher education that was included in the CARES Act, signed into law Mar. 27. The money was allocated by a US Department of Education formula that proportioned the aid across 5,000 campuses according to a broad calculation of student financial need–a formula that resulted in 350 campuses assigned more money than Harvard.
The HuffPo column correctly reports that at least half of the grant to Harvard “must be reserved for emergency financial grants to students”–a requirement mandated by the CARES Act for every campus. Then the column speculates that “at least some of that money — which could be used to cover tuition payments and course materials — would also end up in Harvard coffers.”
Harvard is refuting speculation that it will place any of the CARES Act relief funds into its well-endowed coffers.
“Harvard is actually allocating 100% of the funds to financial assistance for students to meet their urgent needs in the face of this pandemic,” said a Harvard spokesman in a statement quoted Monday evening in the Boston Herald.
“Harvard will allocate the funds based on student financial need,” said the statement. “This financial assistance will be on top of the significant support the University has already provided to students — including assistance with travel, providing direct aid for living expenses to those with need, and supporting students’ transition to online education.”
The huffy HuffPo hit piece may be defended as an attempt to push Harvard toward that 100 percent commitment, but the timing and target of the attack are tone deaf to the more urgent need of the week.
Rather than cast suspicion on emergency student relief that was included in the CARES Act, and rather than hand a talking point to voices who would disparage Congressional relief to higher ed, a more healthy use of HuffPo space would point out that the half of the money which is by law required to help students directly is taking too much time to make its way to Harvard in the first place.
Although the US Department of Education promised “immediate” release of funds on Apr. 9–that is, “immediate” release of funds that were authorized Mar. 27–the fact is that experts knowledgeable in financial aid were unable to verify on Apr. 16 that any of the funds had actually hit any campus.
Compare the speed of this funding to the direct deposit of treasury checks or the funding of small business loans. The SBA ran out of $350 billion at least a week before the Education Department pushed $6 billion in “student emergency relife” out its door. And this is half the scandal of the day.
The mistake of the HuffPo column was to misunderstand the Congressional intent of the funds and to conflate the riches of the Harvard endowment with the real needs of Harvard students, who find themselves suddenly ejected from their dorm rooms or may come home to families where wage earners are laid off.
The timing of the attack was also poorly targeted, as the next round of COVID-19 relief funding is being finalized in Congressional negotiations. The attack is a political chiller that can only hurt relief efforts for American college campuses, exactly when those efforts deserve pressure to increase funding for COVID-19 relief.
Are we all in this together? It’s time to make sure that college students get the attention and suppor they need, whether they go to a rich university like Harvard or not.