Heather Mac Donald to Conservative Donors: Wake Up!

Manhattan Institute distinguished fellow harshly critiques Kenneth Griffin’s $300 million contribution to Harvard.

In the new, Summer 2023 issue of City Journal, its contributing editor Heather Mac Donald harshly critiques hedge-fund manager Kenneth Griffin’s $300 million worth of support to Harvard University—close to the largest single donation in the university’s history—announced last April.

“Business as usual, you may think; another billionaire plowing treasure into an institution whose values are, at best, in tension with American traditions and, at worst, antithetical to them,” Mac Donald writes in “Conservative Donors: Wake Up!” “But Griffin is not your usual high-value donor—not a George Soros, Bill Gates, or David Geffen, say. He is a conservative.”

Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Distinguished Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a 2005 Bradley Prize recipient. The Manhattan Institute publishes City Journal, on the publication committee of which The Giving Review co-editor Daniel P. Schmidt serves.

In Mac Donald’s article, which will soon be available online, she describes Griffin’s conservative views on law enforcement and against identity politics and racism. She then outlines Harvard’s “animating credo … that every American institution is systematically racist, including itself and, of course, the police. Combating that racism requires dividing individuals up by racial identity and preferring some groups over others.”

Mac Donald provides many specific examples of policies, programs, and projects at Harvard that implement this credo. They include ones involving its admissions office, libraries, central administration, business school, Dean of Students’ office, dental school, divinity school, school of design, engineering school, education school, Kennedy School of Government, school of public health, and law school, among others. As these policies, programs, and projects have been implemented, she notes, it’s often been to the detriment of particular, highly disproportionately outnumbered conservatives and conservatism.

“The marketplace of ideas at Harvard is not robust,” according to Mac Donald, and “Kenneth Griffin believes in equal opportunity. Harvard does not.”

The relevant financial statistics about Harvard, from its fiscal-year 2022, are all there: endowment of nearly $51 billion; net assets of $61 billion; net investment income around $2.3 billion; total operating revenues of $5.8 billion, with students chipping in a net $1.2 billion; operating surplus of $406 million.

“[A] donor is well within his rights to focus on society’s top institutions rather than on its more plebeian ones,” Mac Donald writes. “Wanting to double down on presumed excellence is an understandable instinct.” In the context of other elite institutions, conservatives have acted on that instinct, too—about which concerns similar to Mac Donald’s about Griffin’s giving could always be, and occasionally have been, raised.

In the case of Harvard, “Griffin forfeited an opportunity,” according to Mac Donald, who then floats some ideas about those conditions which Griffin could perhaps have hypothetically attached to his such-substantial support.

“Griffin’s gift signals to his fellow businessmen, including to other conservatives, that the path to prestige still leads through the Ivy League,” Mac Donald concludes.

And it signals to universities that they will continue to pay no price for a political agenda antithetical to mainstream American values, one that proclaims racism as the fundamental American trait. As long as this reflexive giving remains the norm, the project of reforming universities from the inside out is doomed to fail. It is time to start building elsewhere.

This article originally appeared in the Giving Review on July 29, 2023.

Michael E. Hartmann

Michael E. Hartmann is CRC’s senior fellow and director of the Center for Strategic Giving, providing analysis of and commentary about philanthropy and giving. He…
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