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Editorials

Dissent: Don’t Donate to Harvard

Kenneth C. Griffin '89 donated $300 million to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which will rename the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in his honor.
Kenneth C. Griffin '89 donated $300 million to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which will rename the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in his honor. By MyeongSeo Kim
By Aden Barton, Clyve Lawrence, and Sam E. Meacham, Crimson Opinion Writers
Aden Barton ’24, an Associate Editorial Editor, is an Economics concentrator in Eliot House. Clyve Lawrence ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House. Sam E. Meacham ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Pforzheimer House.

Last week, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences received a $300 million donation from hedge fund CEO and Republican donor Kenneth C. Griffin ’89. While our Editorial Board has chosen to focus on Griffin’s deplorable policy stances and the possible uses of his donation, we believe this approach overlooks the crux of the issue: Should billionaires be donating to rich universities in the first place?

Our answer is a resounding no.

Reflecting on the ethics of naming the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences after Griffin misses the forest for the trees. Even worse, celebrating the money, as the Board does, reeks of elitism. The Board admires an institution with billions receiving billionaire philanthropy, claiming that Harvard has a distinguished capacity to do social good.

Higher education adds to the social good through instruction and research. Although Harvard provides an outstanding education and does excellent research, neither of these goals at large is best achieved by donating to Harvard.

With respect to instruction, Harvard is only a drop in the bucket of overall college enrollment. Enrollment at Harvard stands at a thousandth of community college enrollment. And, because Harvard is disproportionately wealthy, the school has a comparatively low effect on social mobility. Even if all $300 million from Griffin went to the financial aid program, we think that its impact would still be negligible in making this school, or higher education in general, more socioeconomically diverse.

On the point of research, although we agree with the Board that this donation should go towards studying huge challenges like climate change and democratic decline, such funding would be subject to diminishing marginal returns. Harvard has millions of dollars already devoted for research on challenges of this scale.

If Griffin and other prospective billionaire philanthropists truly care about advancing education or innovation, then they should donate to less well-known places of learning or smaller research foundations that need the money more. Harvard doesn’t have a monopoly on smart people or good ideas. There are other institutions that can accomplish what Harvard can, given better resources.

For these reasons, we find a great material harm in Griffin’s donation — more than the symbolic harm of condoning Griffin’s views pointed out by the Board. This donation represents a missed opportunity to make the most of the money.

The $300 million in the hands of community colleges and historically Black colleges and universities, for example, would go much further in reducing inequality and increasing socioeconomic mobility. As this Board has made clear before, the marginal benefit of a dollar for such schools is higher than that of Harvard.

This is not to say that Harvard should have turned down the donation. If anything, $300 million on GSAS is a better use than the same money on another Miami compound for Griffin. But there are still much better uses than $300 million on GSAS, even within the same realm of impacting higher education.

Given the host of things the uber-rich spend their money on, donating to an educational institution like Harvard is somewhat praiseworthy. It is, however, not the most effective use of $300 million — not even close.

Aden Barton ’24, an Associate Editorial Editor, is an Economics concentrator in Eliot House. Clyve Lawrence ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House. Sam E. Meacham ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Pforzheimer House.

Dissenting Opinions: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.

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