Not only am I well aware of how an endowment is operated -- this is a regular topic of faculty meetings, for god's sake
Then don't say ignorant things like this:
"A bit of data: Harvard's endowment amounts to $1.7 million per student. With a reasonable return on endowment investment, hey could quite literally abolish tuition forever if they wanted to"
You could also demonstrate some basic knowledge on the subject by showing that you understand "Harvard University" isn't "undergraduate" - that's Harvard COLLEGE. Here you go again:
A 3.5% return on Harvard's 1.7 million per student endowment would give an annual income of $60,000, which is equal to Harvard's tuition plus room and board.
Why do you think room and board at Harvard College is $60K?
What do you think will happen when you direct all the investment income into student tuition and board?
Well? Here's a big hint (oooo, am I being "condescending" again?): paying everyone's tuition via the investment income doesn't change REVENUE. So what pays for all the things the endowment income WAS paying for, but isn't anymore?
Well, Mr. Fucking I Teach Physics? Ever heard the expression "rob Peter to pay Paul"?