CAMBRIDGE, MASS. -- Red-faced officials at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government were scurrying for cover this week after the university's student newspaper exposed a draft fund-raising agreement under which an oil-rich Texas couple would have received prestigious university appointments in exchange for a $500,000 contribution.
Under the agreement, a copy of which was obtained by The Harvard Crimson, the Kennedy School proffered "officer of the university" status, a title commonly held by professors and university administrators, to Charles C. Dickinson III and Joanne W. Eaton Dickinson of Wichita Falls, Tex.
In turn, the Dickinsons would have paid $500,000 over 10 years into the school's Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which was established to assist debt-encumbered graduates who take public sector jobs paying less than $30,000 annually.
Late on Thursday, the day the story broke, a contrite Dean Graham T. Allison backed away from the arrangement, even though he had reviewed the agreement and granted his tentative approval. "It is clear that the handling of this case does not meet my own standards or the standards of the University," he said in a prepared statement. "I regret that
I did not review the draft more carefully."
Nevertheless, the agreement and supporting documents make it plain that Kennedy School officials were at least considering the sale of entree to Harvard's exclusive Ivy League world in order to raise precious endowment funds.
In a memorandum written to prepare Allison for one of several meetings school officials had with the Dickinsons, a Kennedy School official said Joanne Dickinson wanted to know "what is the most prestigious title she can buy for $250K?"
Special projects assistant Geralyn White, the author of the memo, also quoted Dickinson as saying, "Charles and I need an identity. We cannot very well say we are philanthropists at cocktail parties. We want to be affiliated with Harvard."
Allison came under fire in 1986 when he minted special Kennedy School medals for "distinguished public service" and awarded one to Attorney General Edwin Meese III. After protests from students, faculty and alumni, Allison admitted the idea had been a "Meese-stake" and quietly scrapped his plans.
The dean, who was appointed in 1977 when he was 36, is known as one of Harvard's most effective and single-minded fundraisers. With university President Derek Bok's explicit blessing, Allison embarked on a campaign to put the Kennedy School of Government on a par with the university's renowned professional schools of law, medicine and business. The school's endowment and enrollment have grown dramatically in the last decade.
When the story was published, Allison and several other university officials refused to return telephone calls, and referred inquiries to press spokesmen who were unprepared to answer questions about policies governing university donations.
"I don't have a full sense of the general university practice," said Steve Singer, the Kennedy School's director of press relations.
In his prepared remarks, Allison did not say whether changes in the draft agreement would jeopardize the Dickinsons' donation. Nor did he say whether the privileges enjoyed by officers of the university are any greater than those normally enjoyed by important donors.
Ordinarily, Allison said, donors are granted access to university facilities such as libraries. And, according to Singer, donors are at times appointed to advisory committees that monitor aspects of the university in which the donors have a special interest.
Under their agreement with the Kennedy School, the Dickinsons would have held chairs on a committee monitoring the Loan Forgiveness Fund. And as officers of the university, they would have enjoyed access to university facilities such as libraries, according to Singer.
So how does the draft agreement with the Dickinsons differ from arrangements made with other donors? Singer said he wasn't sure.
He was, however, certain that the clear, bold language in the memos written by White -- "a young, enthusiastic staffer" -- rankled, and that the explicit quid pro quo spelled out in the agreement with the Dickinsons is not standard operating procedure. "We do not trade appointments for donations," he said.