Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Is Harvard Too Rich For Charity?

Kenneth C. Griffin, billionaire hedger, has pledged $150 million to Harvard, mostly for scholarships. Griffin's gift is the largest the university has ever received.

Does it make sense to give that kind of money to Harvard, an institution already half as rich as Warren Buffett?

No, opines this Bloomberg Businessweek columnist. He points out that Harvard's existing endowment could pay every student's tuition, room and board – about $60,000 – for many, many years.

Tuition, however, does not begin to measure what Harvard and other Ivy League schools spend on their students. According to these estimates, Harvard's annual expenditure per student exceeds what the average student pays by over $50,000. At Yale, over $95,000.

In a world where hardship and poverty remain widespread, donations to wealthy organizations inevitably draw criticism. (When I read that Harvard was naming its admissions office after Griffin, I thought they were kidding. Apparently not.)

Griffin Court, Chicago Art Institute
Previously, Griffin's most noted philanthropy was $19 million toward the magnificent new wing of The Chicago Art Institute. Some believe the money would have been better spent on efforts to reduce Chicago's murders and rampant drug addiction. Others assert that a splendid building, housing great art, enlightens and elevates the residents of the Second City more than another dozen anti-poverty programs. By most accounts, Chicago folks do like the new wing.

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