What Larry Summers did to Harvard’s finances

By Felix Salmon
July 2, 2009

Nina Munk’s VF article on Harvard’s endowment isn’t online, but the prĂ©cis is, and it seems that Larry Summers takes a particular beating, being blamed for $1 billion in losses on interest-rate swaps, as well as for meddling with Harvard Management Company’s investment strategies and ultimately, with Bob Rubin, being responsible for the departure of Jack Meyer. The result?

Munk asked the hedge fund manager to look at Harvard’s finances and assess the extent to which its endowment will be able to keep pace with its immovable costs. The hedge fund manager’s conclusion: “They are completely fucked.”

Is it really as bad as all that? Yes, probably — especially given the way in which both Harvard president Drew Faust and HMC CEO Jane Mendillo seem to be incapable of taking tough decisions. But hey, at least Harvard still has its triple-A credit rating. That must be worth something, right? Er, maybe not:

In December, the university sold $2.5 billion worth of bonds, increasing its total debt to just over $6 billion. Servicing that debt alone will cost Harvard an average of $517 million a year through 2038.

$517 million per year works out at more than $20,000 per student per year. Yikes.

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