$400 Million Donation to Harvard Raises the Question – Do Wealthy Schools Really Need Your Money?

Posted By Abby Perkins on June 12, 2015 at 11:47 am
$400 Million Donation to Harvard Raises the Question – Do Wealthy Schools Really Need Your Money?

After making billions betting against subprime mortgage lending practices in 2007, investor John A. Paulson donated $400 million to Harvard University in early June. As the largest gift ever given to the institution, the endowment is slated for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and is meant to preserve the future of innovations and discoveries at the university.

Money goes where money is

A Washington Post article notes that there are many critics of Paulson’s donation. Some think that Harvard’s current status as the richest school in America – with an endowment of more than $30 billion – means that there are other institutions where the money could have a greater impact. Others believe that Paulson’s journey to riches was an unethical one, and that Harvard shouldn’t want his money. Still others speculate about how many homeless, hungry, or otherwise needy people could have been taken care of with such a sizable donation.

Giving is giving

On the other hand, those who defend Paulson’s gift are quick to point out that Harvard offers free rides to undergraduate students whose parents earn less than $65,000 per year. It may be a place where the best and brightest go to learn, but it doesn’t exclude students from any financial background. Harvard’s technology research is also producing incredible innovations, especially in the areas of robotics and nanotechnology. In 2014, Harvard announced a robot made from paper and Shrinky Dinks that could assemble itself, as well as injectable materials that can fight cancer and HIV.

Paulson defended his donation by stating that an unrestricted endowment to support the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is essential, and that education is the most important way to improve humanity. Harvard is not the only beneficiary of Paulson’s riches, either. In 2012, he gave $100 million to the Central Park Conservancy in New York City to ensure the preservation and beauty of the park. He also gave $15 million in 2007 to the Center for Responsible Lending, an organization that helps find legal assistance for families that are facing foreclosure.

Looking ahead

It does not appear that Paulson will stop investing any time soon, although his holdings are not doing as well now as they were when the housing market crashed. Donating large sums of money to one’s alma matter is certainly nothing new, but Paulson’s critics are likely to continue complaining that his donation was meant to keep the rich and successful well-funded – especially during a time when so many states are cutting funding for higher education as mainstream educators and students are paying the price.


Abby Perkins
Email | Twitter | LinkedIn Abby Perkins attended Davidson College, where she graduated with a B.A. and Honors in English and wrote for The Davidsonian newspaper. Abby's work has been featured on Yahoo! Finance and Entrepreneur. As Managing Editor, Abby is a regular contributor to the GoodCall newsroom, covering education and financial aid.

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