Placed delicately below the fold and on a Saturday with no big time sports contests in the offing, the Globe story about Harvard’s $1.8 billion loss in its cash accounts is exactly what we can expect from both institutions: the Globe and Harvard. Title: “Harvard admits to $1.8b gaffe in cash holdings” A “gaffe”! That’s $1.8 BILLION. In a nutshell, they put most of the operating cash in a hedge fund. But not to worry, the story concludes. Harvard’s “strong management” will keep things moving ahead.
No alarm bells necessary. No investigations. After all, it’s Harvard. It’s the Globe. Go back to sleep. It’s only $1.8 billion. That’s only $736 for every household in Massachusetts. And, anyhow it’s not OUR money. But wait, it really is. Harvard University is a public charity. Its trustees hold its assets in trust-literally-on behalf of all the citizens of the Commonwealth. So how does Harvard lose our money and just go on with business as usual? Public charities come under the Attorney General-through the AG’s Division of Public Charities. Let’s see if the Attorney General has some comment about this situation. To be fair, the AG Division of Public Charity has never been leader in regulatory zeal. As AG Scott Harshbarger made a half-hearted attempt to rein in some of the questionable management practices at B.U. a number of years ago. Coakley has been critical of executive compensation at the larger nonprofits, including Harvard. But $1.8 BILLION? A “gaffe?” Is anyone going to ask some hard questions?