The Rich Get Richer (High Ed Edition)

Via Inside Higher Ed:  Does Harvard Need Your Money?

It didn’t take long for the criticisms to begin rolling in after Harvard University announced a $400 million donation to its engineering college.

The gift was proudly touted by the university as its largest-ever gift, and a significant step toward reaching the towering $6.5 billion fund-raising goal of its ongoing capital campaign.

Yet for many others, the gift didn’t make sense. They questioned why wealthy donors repeatedly choose to give large sums to the wealthiest university in the world.

Harvard has a $36 billion endowment that last year had a 15 percent investment return. The university has more than $43 billion in total wealth. It’s part of a prestigious pack of 10 rich universities that hold more one-third of all the wealth in higher education.

Certainly people are free to give whatever they want to whomever they want.  However, it is hard to look at this and not think how much good would come of a series of smaller donations to truly underfunded institutions rather than a so much going to an already exceptionally wealthy one.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. I am reminded of Sweet Briar College here in Virginia, whose fate is now in the hands of the Virginia Supreme Court.

  2. PJ says:

    I think this somewhat answers why he donated it to Harvard:

    To honor his generosity, the School will be renamed the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

    Does this work in the same way as when, for example, a company buys the right to name a stadium? Is there a contract somewhere promising Paulson that Harvard will keep the name for the next 50 years? Or maybe 25 years after he died? Or is it an “in perpetuity” contract? I do hope there’s a clause somewhere that lets them rename if it he ends up convicted for something.

  3. Tyrell says:

    “The rich get richer
    The poor get their welfare
    The middle class gets the – IRS”

    “Trailer for sale or rent, rooms to let fifty cent
    I’m a man of means by no means
    King of the road !” (The incomparable Roger Miller)
    “Take this job and shove it, I ain’t workin’ here no more” (Paycheck)

  4. @PJ: In my experience one a building, program, school whatever is named it stays that way (unless you name your football field after a guy is later jailed for corruption…).

  5. Ben Wolf says:

    This donation was made by the same John Paulson who persuaded Goldman Sachs to piece together junk MBS and offload it onto a sucker so he and Goldman could take the short position. Goldman paid a fine for this fraud, Paulson got away without a slap on the wrist. His only notable accomplishment as a businessman was the result of a felony.