Few people know that Harvard owns a hotel—or, in the words of a half-dozen corrections issued by The Harvard Crimson, owns a building that houses a hotel. The building is a nondescript DoubleTree Suites by Hilton at 400 Soldiers Field Road in Boston. Suite windows look over the ugly highway at the Charles River, toward the Harvard undergraduate campus in Cambridge. On the October day I stayed there, the Boston chill had just set in. The DoubleTree brand is represented by a much-touted “DoubleTree by Hilton” cookie, which I received in a lobby crowned with a jumble of shiny metal hanging from the ceiling and adjacent to a lounge with leather armchairs and art books. The rooms are arranged in a square around an open atrium, 15 floors high. To ascend, you step into a glass elevator that shoots you up through the middle, past floor after floor where all you see are dozens of housekeeping carts, piled six-feet-high with cleaning supplies, sheets, and comforters, being pushed door-to-door by discreet women in gray uniforms.
Harvard bought 400 Soldiers Field Road in 2005, when Jack R. Meyer, the famously successful CEO of the Harvard Management Corporation, was at his peak, guiding Harvard’s massive $37 billion endowment away from conservative stocks and bonds and into a diverse range of financial investments. Harvard bought real estate, bet on commodities like timber (at one point, Meyer had three professional lumberjacks on hand to advise him), and snapped up foreign and emerging stocks. Harvard is unusual in that it manages much of its endowment internally and has become a microcosm of capital itself, with high-paid fund managers—two of Meyer’s deputies made $25 million a year—and a mission to return annual gains of a few billion dollars. The endowment dwarfs the actual school, financially; just the endowment’s growth in 2014 was larger than the entire operating expenses of the university. Practically speaking, Harvard is a massive investment corporation with a relatively small amount of education attached.
VIDEO: How housekeepers took on Harvard—and won.
This endowment is perpetually bolstered by its high-caliber graduates, who maintain Harvard’s reputation as a training ground for American power. Influential people across the political spectrum attended Harvard, from Steve Bannon on the populist right, to Jared Kushner on the country-club right, to Obama on the centrist left. Elizabeth Warren, progressive Democrats’ favorite candidate, didn’t go there—but she did teach at Harvard Law School. Since integrating women in 1977, the university has produced not only our most powerful men but also some powerful women, though it continues to experience its share of controversy over sexism on campus and in the classroom. (The current Harvard president, Drew Faust, is the university’s first female president and has tried to address that problem, especially at the business school.) Before Trump, the last time an American president had not attended Harvard or Yale was 1989.