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Ivy League slashes price of ‘donor door’ from $20m to $2m after antisemitism storm

By Rikki Schlott | Dec. 4, 2023, 2:49 p.m. ET

Elite colleges are quietly slashing the level of donations which can secure admission as mega-donors close their checkbooks to the Ivy League over antisemitism on campus.

Their long-term practice of giving special consideration to big donors’ children and grandchildren has been badly hit by a growing backlash against college leaders’ failure to keep Jewish students safe.

Now, according to one college counselor, a $2 million check might be the new $20 million.

“If a billionaire has committed $50 million or $100 million a year and now they’re backing out, colleges need to figure out how to fill that gap,” Command Education founder Christopher Rim told The Post.

“The only way to do that is by recruiting lower amount donors.”

Since Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, many elite colleges have been accused of failing to tackle antisemitic demonstrations on campus and refusing to straightforwardly condemn the mass murder.

The situation is so extreme that Harvard University president Claudine Gay and University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill will be questioned by Congress’ Education and the Workforce Committee on Tuesday.

Protesters at UPenn’s campus were even heard chanting for an “Intifada revolution” this weekend.

Harvard last week became the latest Ivy to be investigated by the Department of Education for civil rights violations under Title VI, joining UPenn, Columbia and Cornell in the dubious distinction.

The probe into antisemitism has also caught up The Cooper Union in New York City, Wellesley College in Massachusetts, the University of Tampa, Fla., and Lafayette College, Indiana.

The impact on donations has been felt by Harvard, where like former Victoria’s Secret CEO Les Weiner, whose foundation had given untold millions to Harvard over 34 years, cut ties with the university. Hedge funder Bill Ackman has repeatedly spoken out, along with $500m donor Ken Griffin.

At UPenn, Marc Rowan, a member of the Board of Overseers, publicly called on donors to stop giving until the president and chairman resign, while Estée Lauder billionaire Ronald Lauder stopped his donations.

“People pulled their commitments over the lack of leadership,” Rim told The Post. “They used to donate $50-plus million to these schools, and now these schools, even if they have a $35 or $40 billion fund, are desperate to make money.”

“University presidents’ main focus is to fundraise. It’s their business. And they have to fill this gap one way or the other.”

It’s long been known that a donation to a school could curry favors in the admissions process.

A 2019 analysis of Harvard’s admissions files by researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that an applicant on the “dean’s interest list” — often code for someone whose family donated to the school — had a 42.2% shot of being admitted between 2009 and 2014.

By comparison, the overall admissions rate for those years hovered around 6% — meaning interest list status translates into a seven-fold increase in odds.

“It’s an open secret that this is what you get because why else would somebody be donating hundreds of millions or even tens of millions of dollars to the school without wanting anything in return,” Rim said.

He said the dollar value required to make a splash has been on the rise for decades.

Until recently, he said, the position of colleges would be, “$2 million is not going to get you in. To those universities, it’s nothing. Maybe that could work 25 years ago, but in the past few years add a zero and maybe that’s enough.”

“Trying to get into a top Ivy [until this fall], I’d say, requires an upwards of $50 million to have any influence in the admissions process,” he added.

But, now that mega-donors are pulling out — many of whom had pledged to give tens of millions of dollars annually for years at a time — smaller dollar donors might have more say.

“There’s going to be a new wave of people who aren’t necessarily impacted by [the Israeli conflict] or they just simply don’t care — who think this is an opportunity for them to have influence,” Rim said. “Families who are now donating lesser amounts are going to be more influential.”

He predicts opportunists will rise to the occasion and start forking over a couple million in the hopes it makes a difference.

“That is what my intuition and my experience says,” he explained. “A 90% discount on the current quote unquote ‘rate’ could be pretty compelling to a lot of these families.”

Although he’s often asked whether it’s worth it to donate, he says no, regardless of the recent discount: “My general recommendation still is not to donate to these schools, even if the price tag is 90% cheaper.”

And, moreover, Rim thinks the slashed prices will be short-lived.

“Once the president or the chairman of the board either is removed or resigns, I think a lot of these mega-donors will come back,” he said. “At the end of the day, the prestige of these Ivies is not going to disappear.”

New York Post

Originally published on The New York Post on December 4, 2023

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