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Editorials

Take the Money Without the Values

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 Angela Dela Cruz
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

Even for a well-funded institution like Harvard, receiving a $300 million gift is no everyday occurrence.

So is renaming one of Harvard’s schools after a donor or those related to them — since John Harvard’s donation almost four centuries ago that named Harvard itself, it’s only happened thrice.

That third school is — as of last week — the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. From now until the end of times or the unlikely re-renaming of GSAS, our University bears the mark of a billionaire, hedge fund CEO, and Florida Governor Ron D. DeSantis supporter — Kenneth C. Griffin ’89.

This monumental change on campus has led to much chatter and conjecturing. One pokes at the timeline of this gift arriving just years before Griffin’s oldest child will begin applying to college. Another snarks, “Thanks for the money, Mr. Griffin! How much are you gonna shell out to influence democratic election processes next year?”

But with the money already taken and the building already renamed (with great haste, it appears), we can only think about how this change has and will impact Harvard.

As we have repeatedly written before, donations and namings are thorny moral areas because they hold tremendous potential for positive change, but also produce undue influences. Thus, when deciding to accept donations, Harvard should weigh the moral character of prospective donors against the good their donation can accomplish.

Naming a school after Griffin was a mistake. By adorning its schools with the names of donors, Harvard condones these individuals and their values.

Griffin is a vocal advocate for DeSantis. Even if not all of their views align, Griffin’s donations to DeSantis have helped enable the Sunshine State executive to suppress African American studies and LGBTQ education in schools — stances we cannot support and hope our University cannot either. Unless Harvard publicly issues a rejection of these positions, it is implicitly telling its Black and queer students that it sees nothing wrong with campaigns to sensationalize, slander, and erase their identities.

At the same time, a $300 million donation undeniably has the opportunity to produce much good — though not as much as the improvement in social mobility that donations to community colleges and historically Black colleges and universities provide.

Well-monied as Harvard may be, the endowment has restrictions and is not infinite. As students who believe that Harvard’s resources can be leveraged for social good, we believe that funding in the right places can further such endeavors, benefitting us all.

We might never know if this donation came with strings, but now that the money has transferred hands, the unrestricted nature of Griffin’s donation means that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences can spend these funds where it pleases. We have only one request: Use this money well, to promote the social good.

Too much of Harvard’s money is wasted — on an oversized under-useful bureaucracy, or unwanted student services. We hope that Harvard will put these new $300 million into the pure pursuit of universal betterment.

From researching our most pressing contemporary challenges (think climate change or the decline of democracy) to pursuing an economically diverse student body (starting with low-income prefrosh recruitment and following through with support systems for these students) and paying our essential workers better (TFs and CAs included), Harvard now has the means to do more.

Best of all, Harvard should distribute Griffin’s money to academic departments that support the communities of color and queer people most affected by the renaming and DeSantis’s education policies. These departments include Ethnic Studies, African and African American Studies, and hopefully a new South East Asian Studies one.

It’s a cliche turn of phrase by now to call Harvard a “transformative” experience. Griffin’s donation carries the power to help our University metamorphose for the better — as long as we intentionally deter Griffin’s name from transforming us, too.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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