Kenneth Griffin Is Giving Harvard $150 Million and It's a Terrible Idea

A blog about business and economics.
Feb. 20 2014 9:13 AM

Please Stop Giving Giant Donations to Rich Universities

Moar money please!

Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Kenneth Griffin went to Harvard. Then he got rich running a hedge fund called Citadel. Now he's giving $150 million of that fortune to Harvard, which I think is a terrible idea.

Let's think about it this way. I don't have Kenneth Griffin money, so I can't give anyone $150 million. But let's say I was feeling inspired to give someone $1,500 tomorrow. Who should I give it to? That's a difficult question to answer. Should I give it to Kenneth Griffin? Nope! That's a really easy question to answer. You don't give extra money to Kenneth Griffin because Kenneth Griffin is already really rich.

And guess what: Harvard is already really rich.


But of course while Kenneth Griffin is rich, he's not the richest man in the world. Harvard is the Bill Gates of universities, not the Kenneth Griffin. Harvard's $32 billion endowment is about 50 percent larger than Yale's. Don't get me wrong, giving money to Yale is ridiculous. But giving money to Harvard is doubly ridiculous. And note that when it comes to these fancy universities the official endowment figures are a drastic understatement of the real wealth of the university. Harvard's real-estate assets are mind-bogglingly valuable, for example, but not part of the endowment.

At any rate, in the scheme of misguided donations to Harvard this one seems not-so-awful. It's mostly for financial aid, which is nice. But really you would almost certainly do more good with this money by picking 1,500 people at random and mailing them each a check for $100,000. I will as usual tout GiveDirectly where your money goes to desperately poor rural Kenyans as a great use of your charitable dollar. But really it's child's play to think of a better use of $150 million than to give it to the richest university on the planet.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.


Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
Sept. 23 2014 12:43 PM Occupy Wall Street How can Hillary Clinton be both a limousine liberal and a Saul Alinsky radical?
Sept. 23 2014 1:04 PM Which States Should Secede From the Union?
The Eye
Sept. 23 2014 11:33 AM High-Concept Stuff Designed to Remind People That They Don’t Need Stuff  
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 11:48 AM Punky Brewster, the Feminist Punk Icon Who Wasn’t
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 10:51 AM Is Apple Picking a Fight With the U.S. Government? Not exactly.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 11:00 AM Google Exec: Climate Change Deniers Are “Just Literally Lying”
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.