Opinion | Generosity to Colleges in Need

To the Editor:

Re “‘I Was Stunned’: Small Colleges Receive Big Donations” (news article, Dec. 17):

I sit on the board of the Campaign Legal Center, a (relatively) small nonpartisan organization that works hard to “advance democracy through law.” Last summer we received an unsolicited and unexpected large gift from MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, accompanied by a request that we not return to her for more in the future.

Your account about her surprise generosity to a great and obviously thoughtfully researched variety of relatively obscure historically minority colleges and universities that struggle to serve richly deserving segments of the population is an inspiring account of the union of heart and brain. We are all better for learning of it.

Charles Fried
Cambridge, Mass.
The writer is a law professor at Harvard.

To the Editor:

Re “No Warning, No Strings, No Fanfare: A Billionaire Bestows Gifts” (Business, Dec. 21):

As the presidents of two City University of New York colleges, we were thrilled to learn that our Hispanic- and minority-serving institutions in the Bronx and Manhattan would each receive a gift of $30 million from the author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. It is difficult to adequately convey the hope and validation these gifts communicated across our campuses.

Ms. Scott has indeed “turned traditional philanthropy on its head,” through her gifts’ magnitude, and her terms and selection of recipients.

When it comes to major gifts, tremendous amounts of wealth have been transferred to higher education over the past 50 years, but wealth has mostly gone to wealth. However, it appears that few of Ms. Scott’s higher education recipients have ever received a gift of this size before.

To be true to its highest ideals, our society must reduce the vast inequities that have been amplified and made painfully visible during the Covid-19 pandemic. Affordable and accessible quality education is one of the best ways to reverse these impacts.

MacKenzie Scott has done something radical this year. We hope others will follow suit and support colleges that serve students like ours. The result will be a more just and equitable society that will benefit everyone.

Daniel Lemons
Anthony Munroe
Mr. Lemons is president of Lehman College. Mr. Munroe is president of Borough of Manhattan Community College.

To the Editor:

MacKenzie Scott’s donations to colleges and universities that are serving predominantly lower-income students and students of color will have a significantly larger impact on educational attainment and equity than if those dollars had gone to the usual brand names. But our country should not have to count on individual philanthropy to improve the higher education opportunities available to all students in America.

Higher education attainment is critical to individual well-being, equal opportunity and social mobility — key principles of our society, as well as our country’s economic growth. It is a responsibility of the government, which must step up and invest in improving educational attainment for all.

The lifetime opportunities afforded by a college degree cannot continue to depend so heavily on family income.

Catharine B. Hill
New York
The writer, a former president of Vassar College, is managing director of Ithaka S + R, which offers strategic advice for academic and cultural institutions.

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