It was announced this week that the university with the largest endowment has received its largest donation to date. Yes, for any of those not in the know on college endowments, Harvard has the biggest one. By quite a few billion over its closest competitors: Yale, Princeton, and Stanford. Harvard’s endowment at the end of fiscal year 2013 was in fact $32,689,489,000. Yale’s stood at $20,708,793,000, Princeton’s was $18,786,132,000, and Stanford’s was $18,688,868,000. Rounding out the top ten for fiscal year 2013, as reported by “US News & World Report” were: MIT ($10,857,976,000), University of Michigan ($8,272,366,000), Columbia ($8,197,880,000), Texas A&M ($8,072,054,790), UPenn ($7,741,396,000), and Notre Dame ($6,959,051,000).
So what was the grand total of the donation this week to Harvard’s endowment? Well, it was $400 million. And the donation was made by Wall Street tycoon John Paulson, a hedge fund manager who runs Paulson & Co. In fact, “Forbes” estimated Paulson’s net worth, as of 2014, to be $13.5 billion so maybe he can make up the $400 million in a couple of strong days for the market.
Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell immediately took to Twitter to voice his incredulousness with Paulson’s donation. As Gladwell Tweeted, “It came down to helping the poor or giving the world’s richest university $400 mil it doesn’t need. Wise choice John!” He also wrote: “Next up for John Paulson: volunteering at the Hermes store on Madison avenue. Let’s make this a truly world class retail outlet!” And: “Working the coat check at Art basel. They’re short staffed!” Oh wait, Gladwell wasn’t done just yet: “Apparently $200 mil is earmarked for a satellite campus on St Barts.” And: “It’s going to be named the John Paulson School of Financial Engineering,” “Harvard’s pitch to Paulson: not all privileged people are equally privileged!,” and “Paulson to Harvard: is there a way to give back without actually giving anything back?”
Gladwell has never been shy to be a critic of the Ivy League — and of college rankings — and we always respect his arguments because he bases much of his opinions on genuine data. In this particular case, we do see Gladwell’s point, but we also can’t but wonder why Gladwell is criticizing a man for donating a good percentage of his fortune. Has Gladwell donated as much of his money to important causes and institutions as has Paulson? We’re not sure. But let’s not chastise a man for trying to do some good. And institutions such as Harvard indeed do good. Cutting-edge cancer research does come out of Harvard after all…