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Harvard ramps up lobbying as Trump is seen as threat

Harvard University president Drew Faust.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/file

WASHINGTON — Harvard president Drew Faust is ramping up efforts to protect the university from upheaval during the Trump administration, shuttling to Washington this week to make the case for ongoing scientific funding and the continued free flow of foreign students and academics.

Trump’s travel restriction and plan to aggressively boost military spending — potentially at the expense of National Institutes of Health budgets — pose threats to Harvard, which is one of the biggest economic engines in Massachusetts.

The college spent about $600,000 last year lobbying officials to make sure the federal tap continues to flow. It also is closely monitoring tax overhaul plans that could reduce or eliminate deductions for charitable giving and impose taxes on the university’s huge endowment.


Faust is visiting Washington to make the case directly to members of Congress. It follows a similar trip she made in January, when she met with the Senate leaders from each party, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York.

Harvard has typically been able to rely on a big network of alumni in any new presidential administration, but Trump’s White House seems to have fewer than the norm.

The most notable officials with ties to Harvard are bachelor’s degree holder Jared Kushner, Trump’s son in law, and Steve Bannon, the top adviser who is a key engineer of the Trump revolution under way in the capital. Bannon went to Harvard Business School.

“This administration seems unpredictable in many ways,’’ Faust told editors and reporters at a lunch hosted by Bloomberg News. “It doesn’t seem tied to the traditional notions of the role of government. And so [the new White House’s] understanding of this long relationship between federal government and higher education is unclear to us.’’

These same worries are echoed in halls of academia across the Bay State and the country, as university presidents, medical school administrators, and laboratory scientists grapple with the fallout of Trump’s surprising election.


They view research budgets as especially vulnerable to cuts Trump is mandating to help pay for his planned surge in defense spending. Trump’s pledges to leave Social Security and Medicare alone will magnify pressure on other areas of the budget.

“When we look at the nature of the budget that Trump is said to be considering, with huge increases in defense spending and no reductions in entitlements, it’s not clear where the kind of support would come from’’ to keep scientific research dollars intact, Faust said.

Climate scientists would be severely impacted by the president’s proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, she added. “The state of the EPA and the threats to eviscerating its foundations are very much in the minds of our researchers. They are very anxious about where funding came come from,’’ Faust said.

Harvard will continue to advocate for the integrity of rigorous science, she said, while avoiding the ideological fray as an institution. She compared the college’s mission to the media’s efforts to dig out facts.

“We, too, define our identity in that way. We are about knowledge, facts — veritas — truth,’’ said Faust.

Faust telegraphed, in remarks to arts and sciences faculty in December, what she viewed as the need to personally advocate for Harvard in Washington. “I anticipate that this work will consume a considerable portion of my time and attention in the months to come,” she said then.


She was among several dozen university leaders who wrote to Trump Feb. 2 objecting to his executive order temporarily banning travel to the United States by refugees and citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries, calling it unfair, counter to American principles, and chilling on international academic exchange.

The hastily produced ban has been stayed by federal courts, but Trump is expected to issue a revised ban this week, one designed to better overcome legal challenges.

A Swiss scientist who has worked at Harvard since the 1990s recently told Faust he would rather pursue his work in Switzerland, Faust said Monday, telling her in a letter, “I feel unwelcome here.’’

Faust has established the position of Muslim chaplain to counsel students who are coping with the travel ban fallout. Town hall meetings sponsored by Harvard in response to the ban have attracted 900 people, she said.

She said she worries about the explicit bans and threats aimed at undocumented students and immigrants, as well as the general environment in the United States for non-citizens. About 20 percent of Harvard students come from foreign countries.

Citing just one example of important international exchanges, she noted long-standing ties between American academic medical centers and Iran, which has been sending medical students to the United States since the days of the shah of Iran.

“If people from India feel they may be shot if they come to the United States, it is very troubling,’’ said Faust. Last week, an Indian tech worker was shot to death in a Kansas bar.


Faust said she has resisted calls to declare Harvard a “sanctuary campus’’ in response to Trump’s plan for more aggressive deportations, however, because she believes it would give students a “false sense of security.’’

The college will require that law enforcement officials get a warrant before entering the campus, and it is offering advice and support. Up to 150 people on campus are undocumented, she estimated.

Rowland can be reached at christopher.rowland@globe.com