Tag Archive: Donations

  1. Charity Begins Abroad?

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    “Dà jiā hǎo,” Yale President Peter Salovey said in broken Chinese. “Hello everyone.”

    On Oct. 29, 2014, Salovey sat down with Pan Shiyi, one of China’s most influential businessmen and the chairman of SOHO China, a major real estate development company worth over $10 billion. Behind Salovey and Pan, both dressed in dark suits and white shirts, stood two black-clad women prepared to offer ceremonial gifts to the two leaders.

    With his three words, Salovey greeted an audience larger than those gathered in a conference room inside one of SOHO China’s futuristic Beijing offices. Rather, Salovey was addressing the broader community of educators, students and philanthropists who would likely take an interest in the gift.

    The SOHO China Foundation, established in 2005 by Pan and his wife Zhang Xin to support Chinese education, had just announced a donation of $10 million to Yale in support of low-income Chinese students. This gift was part of a larger $100 million endowment established in 2014 to fund Chinese financial aid at international universities.

    “We hope the donations will help Yale admit more Chinese students, and those from modest backgrounds,” Pan announced at the ceremony. “Every person’s potential is like a hidden gem, and education is the tool that unlocks human potential.”

    For all the pomp and circumstance of the event — the photo-ops, the official handshakes, the backdrops displaying the SOHO China and Yale logos — the donation, in relative terms, does not amount to much.

    According to the University’s most recent financial report, Yale took in a total of $346.4 million in charitable contributions in fiscal 2014, making the SOHO China donation a mere 2.8 percent of Yale’s fundraising total. And the donation was $5 million less than what the couple gave to Harvard earlier in 2014 for the same outlined goals.

    Further, compared to Stephen Schwarzman’s ’69 $300 million fundraising campaign in 2013 to establish the Schwarzman Scholars at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, Pan and Zhang’s donation appears even smaller.

    “It’s a drop in the ocean compared to what Chinese schools are raising,” said Rupert Hoogewerf, the publisher of the Hurun Report, a monthly magazine best known for its “China Rich List.

    But the gift’s significance is not denominated in dollars. Rather, the gift and the reaction to it  may symbolize changing Chinese attitudes about philanthropy — changes with direct implications for Western institutions

    With Chinese donors giving more and more to foreign causes, “I just suppose that Yale might want to draw more money from China,” said a prominent Chinese newspaper columnist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to restrictions placed on domestic journalists speaking to the foreign press.

    While Salovey did not travel halfway around the globe to merely pick up a check (he was also in Beijing at the time for the opening of the Yale Center Beijing), Yale’s eagerness stands out among its peer institutions. Harvard President Drew Faust, by comparison, met Zhang and Pan in a Cambridge boardroom and signed documents with markedly less fanfare.

    But the buzz around Pan and Zhang’s donation hasn’t been restricted to Yale — it has garnered even stronger reactions outside the US.

    “Mr. Pan’s donation is nothing…but it has an eye catching effect and has an effect on the people’s feeling in China,” Shujie Yao, economics professor at the University of Nottingham, said. “Each day [students] go to school and they don’t have even basic things.” 

    Professor Yao joins a multitude of other voices, both within China and beyond its borders, criticizing the SOHO China gift and other high-profile Chinese donations to elite American institutions over the past few years. These philanthropic gestures have sparked a firestorm of debate about Chinese philanthropy abroad, and about where Chinese donors’ loyalty should lie.

    No Good Deed…?

    The first seven-figure donation to Yale by a Chinese national occurred in 2010, when Zhang Lei GRD ’02 SOM ’02, founder of Hillhouse Capital Management, pledged nearly $9 million to the School of Management.

    According to a 2010 Asia Times article, which quoted then-University president Richard Levin, Zhang’s gift was the largest gift to date from a young alumnus and was also the largest gift to the School of Management up to that point.

    Despite the apparent act of altruism, not everyone was happy.

    In the days following the announcement of Zhang’s gift, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency had to set up a special forum just to accommodate angry debate on the topic

    And when China’s “Global Times” hosted a forum regarding the gift, they received more than 1,000 posts as outraged individuals spewed hate-filled accusations mixed with nationalist sentiment.

    “Scum, trash, dog feces, traitor,” wrote one commenter.

    The Chinese equivalent of Twitter, Weibo, was flooded with infuriated messages. Zhang was accused of “indifference” to the concerns of his own nation and even labeled a “traitor.”

    Five years later, students, professors and experts on China reflected about why these types of gifts have struck a chord with a domestic audience.

    “I think there is a very strong sense of nationalism among young people, especially young educated Chinese, who are very vocal and are on social media,” said China Insider director France Pepper, a leading consultant on travel and culture in China. “It is, in some way, surprising because you think these kids are going to the university and are outward thinking, but at the same time they are thinking of China and China’s potential.”

    This fall, much of the fury that had subsided since 2010 has been scraped raw once again. And with a larger donation, more publicity surrounding the gift, and more Chinese students on American campuses than ever before, the debate regarding nationalism, philanthropy and education appears far from over.

    “It’s a very hot topic right now,” Hoogewerf said. “There has been a lot of criticism in the press of [Pan and Zhang’s] gift.”

    Hoogewerf said many critics of the SOHO China Foundation argue that the money could have been better directed at the major problems continuing to plague China’s education system.

    “I only want to tell China’s entrepreneurs: think about children in China’s West,” wrote one Weibo user. “[They] don’t have enough food and have no shoes to wear in winter. For those students who study abroad, which of their families doesn’t have connections or money?”

    Yao said that in terms of primary and secondary education, China remains much less developed than the U.S., and the existing schools that serve low-income students in China remain underfunded.

    So even if higher education itself is well supported in China, many Chinese students could “never dream” of attending domestic universities, Yao said, let alone studying abroad.

    “And in this particular moment, [Zhang and Pan] pour so much money into Harvard and other schools?”  Yao asked.

    Still, when engaged in educational philanthropy, there remain compelling reasons for Chinese donors to look abroad.

    Alice Sun, founder of a China/Hong Kong education consultancy in New Haven called Ivy Labs, said there is a sense that donations to Chinese universities — which are largely state-run — will not have the same impact that they can have at elite American schools.

    “I heard a lot about the mismanagement of money and a lot of donors will have to question, ‘If I donate to a Chinese university, will they manage it well?’” she said.

    Aobo Dong, a student at Wesleyan and the executive director of VOCAL Mentorship, a program that assists Asian students in applying to American colleges, said that the perception of rampant corruption among government officials has left Chinese donors skeptical of domestic educational causes. Echoing Sun, Dong said that donors place greater trust in more reputable private universities in America.

    But in defending the gift, Zhang, the CEO of SOHO China, avoided the touchy debate regarding the failings of the Chinese educational system. Rather, Zhang argued that her gifts to American institutions were a form of national expression. Representatives for the couple declined to comment for this article.

    “It is important for China to be integrated with the rest of the world,” Zhang wrote in a New York Times opinion column published last month. “Our aim is to enable China’s best and brightest to act as a bridge between China and other nations — an important tool for modernizing the Middle Kingdom.”

    But whether those ambitious goals will come to fruition is far from certain.

    Chnia’s Great Wall in Education

    Despite Zhang and Pan’s intent to support China’s most promising students, some critics argue that these types of scholarships are, at best, a waste of money. At worst, they say, the scholarships can inadvertently strengthen the divide between rich and poor.

    “The scholarship will only increase Chinese inequality,” Yao said. “The people who are able to study and travel to enter Harvard, they have to be previously from [a] rich family — there is no peasant family that can go.”

    Yao argued that to even consider studying abroad, Chinese students must enjoy a level of affluence. Despite the offer of generous financial aid once a student is accepted to an American university, there is little infrastructure in early education to set students on that path.

    According to Dong, these scholarships come too late in the admissions process to offset social inequality. He added that since Yale already operates under a “need blind” admissions policy, a scholarship fund may be redundant.

    Yet current Yale student Serene Li ’17 said that Chinese students at Yale are already socioeconomically diverse. Many of her fellow Chinese students are on financial aid and receive generous scholarships, she said.

    Yifu Dong ’17 said though he does not know any Chinese Yale students from very poor backgrounds, the Chinese students at Yale are not as privileged as people in China often perceive them to be.

    And while he did not provide an exact percentage, Yale Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan wrote in an email that “most” current Chinese students at Yale are on financial aid.

    “We really hope, and the donors hope, that this type of gift really raises the profile of Yale in China and encourages more talented Chinese students to apply,” Quinlan wrote in an email. “There are many Chinese students who probably look at our price tag, don’t understand how financial aid works, and decide not to apply to Yale.”

    But Dong suggested that Yale’s profile in China hardly needs raising.

    He said Chinese students who are admitted to Ivy League schools or other famous colleges are publicly revered and even “worshipped.”

    “A lot of Chinese Yalies are in the newspaper, you read about them online, read about their stories, it is like part of the culture,” he explained.

    In recent years, dozens of consulting firms have cropped up around China charging upwards of $300,000 for admissions advice and supplemental courses. One Shanghai student made headlines in 2010 when she received a book deal just one week after her acceptance to Harvard.

    So if the donation may have little impact on Yale’s attempts to recruit low-income Chinese students, and if the donation will — at most — have marginal influence on Yale’s already considerable fame abroad, critics have speculated about an alternate motive.

    The Price of Admissions

    Zhang and Pan have two sons, aged 15 and 16, who both study English and go to international schools. With Chinese students facing increasingly cutthroat competition for spots at top American universities, the timing of the SOHO China gift has not gone unnoticed.

    “Isn’t Pan just buying an entrance ticket for his son to attend an elite university abroad?” wrote one Weibo user.

    Such speculation isn’t unique to the Chinese blogosphere. Li said she initially thought the gift may have been meant to help boost the odds of admission for the couple’s children.

    And Pepper said that with a donation of this size, the couple might be seeking some “bang for their buck” — meaning favorable status with receiving universities — especially given that securing a spot at a top school is of the utmost importance for wealthy Chinese families.

    “Even though these people are the elite, they are all obsessed with Ivy League schools,” she said. “Education is the top priority of Chinese families and [they] are likely not going to give their money to a hospital in Iowa, for example.

    Even if the relationship between donor and administrator may not be as quid pro quo as some cynics have argued, a high profile gift to a prestigious university has its benefits.

    Sun said that although she believed the SOHO China gift and similar donations were “from the heart,” major gifts to universities have perks that can ultimately raise admissions chances. She said that students may be able to get exclusive access to such things as faculty clubs and time with professors, in addition to gaining opportunities such as research experience or summer programs.

    But Yale administrators denied that the donation carried unspoken expectations.

    Yale Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill said in December that the couple’s generosity stemmed from Zhang’s personal experience studying abroad. In the 1980s, she was awarded scholarships to study in England at the University of Sussex and at Cambridge University.

    “With the help of financial aid, I went from factory worker to university student, then became an entrepreneur and eventually, chief executive of my own company,” Zhang wrote in her December Times column. “That opportunity to study was the most dramatic turning point in my life.”

    Salovey similarly dismissed the accusations leveled against the couple.

    “My experience of philanthropists — from the United States and from around the world — is that they make their gifts to Yale and other institutions from their desire to do good,” he wrote in an email. “In this case, Ms. Zhang and Mr. Pan clearly want to help make possible a future in which students of limited financial means can have access to a great education.”

    Whatever the couple’s reasons for giving, donating to a university isn’t a guarantee of getting one’s child admitted. Hoogewerf said though preferential treatment for large donors may be more common at less prestigious universities, there is often greater division between the development office and the admissions office at elite schools. He recalled a case in which a wealthy Chinese family donated a large sum of money to the University of Cambridge only to have their child rejected months later.

    Giving and Receiving

    Despite domestic backlash, the flow of money from Chinese coffers to foreign institutions seems unlikely to dry up anytime soon.

    Pan and Zhang, for example, have pledged to continue providing major gifts to leading American institutions. They stated in October that they have set their sights on Duke and Stanford.

    With new money fused with new attitudes, China may be entering a golden age of charitable giving — exemplified by the SOHO China donation, the similar donation by Zhang Lei in 2010, and most recently, a $350 million gift to Harvard from a Hong Kong foundation this September.

    “There are a lot of relatively young entrepreneurs who are fortunate enough to create spectacularly successful businesses in China,” said Yale School of Management professor Stephen Roach, a senior fellow at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and the former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia. “Younger wealth tends to have a different approach towards philanthropy and giving back to society.”

    Pepper agreed, saying that though large-scale donations to institutions have been a very American and European concept, these charitable principles are now starting to become ingrained in Chinese society.

    And in light of the growth of Chinese philanthropy, the pomp and circumstance surrounding Yale’s acceptance of the gift takes on a new significance.

    If Chinese donors present a major source of new income for Yale and other American universities, Yale’s gesture may have been meant to entice more donors.

    “If [Yale] is not trying to tap into sources of wealth internationally, they are making a mistake,”  said Richard Hesel, a principal at Art and Science Group LLC, a firm that advises colleges and nonprofits.

    He added that Yale’s decision to “flatter donors in a public way” might be intended to offer prospective benefactors the promise of affiliation with a prestigious university.

    Yale, for its part, acknowledges the potential benefits of courting foreign money, and has seen recent success in doing so.

    “Yale has made a commitment to engaging donors around the globe for many years,” O’Neill, the Vice President of Development, wrote in an email.  “A number of significant gifts from non-U.S. donors in the past year, while not at the magnitude of Harvard’s $350 million gift, are testament to the growing success of those efforts.”

    Though China currently ranks eighth globally as a source of foreign donation to US universities, CEO Zhang Xin argued these attitudes are changing in a big way — for Yale, for Harvard, and for the world.

    “I believe that the year 2014 is a turning point in Chinese philanthropy,” she wrote in her NYT opinion column. “This tradition is finally getting the impetus it needs to flourish.”

    As Chinese philanthropy looks west, American institutions will look east ready to receive. Those in China may not be so enthusiastic to see money flowing out their country, even as it remains plagued with problems.

    But for Chinese donors, even when seven-figure philanthropic gestures and glitzy ceremonies provoke harsh domestic criticism, charity abroad may be worth the price.

  2. The Game(s)

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    Every November, students, parents, and alumni from two of the America’s most prestigious educational institutions gather to watch “The Game,” one of the nation’s most celebrated athletic traditions. Some experts even claim that the game of football traces its roots to this very event! Here at the Ivy League Gaming Commission (ILGC), we have invented some other games just for the students of Yale and Harvard to play this weekend. Let the Game(s) begin!

    –N. Ferguson,

    Chair, ILGC

    Two Truths and a Lie On Your Admissions Essay:

    Swap admissions essays with a Harvardian and see if you can pick out which “facts” about your “life-changing experience” in “Guatemala” the summer before junior year are more like fiction.

    The Amazing Race to Your Off-Shore Bank Account:

    A Yalie and Harvardian face off to see who can reach the Cayman Islands first. Winner will have a library wing named in his/her honor. A donation to NPR will be made in the Loser’s name.


    While engaged in conversation with acquaintances on the street, students struggle to come up with the most creative euphemisms for their schools. When the stranger asks where you go to school, try answering “Connecticut,” “outside of Boston,” or “on the East Coast.”

    Liberal Guilt Obstacle Course:

    See if you can make your way to class without popping the precious little bubble that protects you from the outside world by avoiding conversations with homeless people, anti-war protestors, and sundry activists.

    Synchronized Summering:

    You and your partner go head to head to see who can put together the most luxurious vacation this summer. Judges will consider Facebook albums, tan lines, and sky miles in their analysis.

    Hide (Your Disdain for Students on Financial Aid) and Go Seek:

    We’re all good at doing this.

    Family Party Games:

    Pin the Tail on the Diploma

    Pin the Diploma on the Internship

    Pin the Internship on a long miserable life devoid of meaning


    Over the next 30 years of your life, you and a Harvardian will literally see who can make the most money in the real estate market.


    You and a partner will take the featured “Ivy League Bingo Sheet” to class and see who can put together a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal combination first. “Problematic” is a free square! If you’re new to the game, learn how to play bingo now and join in on the fun.

    Trivial Pursuits:

    Compare your extracurricular commitments with your Harvard competitor!

    Three Legacied Race:

    You and two other Yalies will race three Harvardians to see who can run 100 yards on their own merits.

    Fabergé Egg Toss:

    This one also speaks for itself. Try not to break the eggs! But if you do, it will be fine I guess.

    Pong Perignon:

    Face off against Harvard in this swanky version of an old college favorite.

    Musical Chairman of the Board:

    It’s just like musical chairs, but the winner becomes the head of a major corporation!


    In a contest spanning the rest of your life, see how long you can keep up the façade of being important or meaningful!

    Bench Presstige:

    How many copies of books that your teacher wrote can you lift at one time? Probably not many!


    Face off with a Harvardian in a game of Yahtzee. Winner gets a yacht! Loser also gets a yacht!

    Tug of War Mongering Alumni:

    Yale wins!

    Touch Football:

    Amuse yourself with a friendly game of amateur touch football at the Yale Bowl this Saturday at noon!



  3. Hey, Big Spender!


    A couple of minutes before 9:00 a.m. on Sept. 30, an email was sent to nearly 300 Yale employees on the ninth floor of 157 Church St. The email was from their boss, Yale’s Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill. Expect another email shortly, it said, and expect big news.

    At 9:01, University President Peter Salovey sent an email to all of Yale. It announced a $250 million donation. The gift, for the construction of two new residential colleges, came from mutual fund billionaire Charles Johnson ’54. It was the largest in Yale’s history.

    Most of the development staff knew that a large gift was coming in — an approximation of the sum had been billed into last year’s financials. But they did not know the exact amount or name of the donor until the rest of the University did. Knowledge of the donation, which had been in the works since at least last winter, was restricted to a small group of development staff and high-level University administrators.

    In fact, the gift was the project of one man in particular: former University President Richard Levin. Over the course of his tenure, Levin built a strong friendship with Johnson -— in part over their mutual support of the Johnson-owned San Francisco Giants — and helped solidify the billionaire’s commitment to giving to the University. Last Monday’s gift is the result of that relationship.

    As president, Levin worked closely with many of Yale’s most generous donors as he spearheaded a university-wide push to further fill Yale’s coffers. During the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the development office brought in  $543,905,260 in gifts — this year’s total, given a $250 million boost, will likely be far higher. Approximately 95 to 99 percent of this money comes from the top group of donors, said O’Neill. This cohort represents one to five percent of all who give.

    Large gifts support some of the most vital aspects of Yale. The Yale Alumni Fund, an unrestricted pool from which the University can draw for whatever it needs, frequently underwrites financial aid, facilities renovation, teaching and research. Other donations, of which Johnson’s is a notable example, are given with specific intent, such as the renovation of Bass Library or the creation of academic programs like Grand Strategy.

    The Levin administration convinced donors to part ways with $1 million, $5 million, or $100 million. But did all that money translate into undue influence?

    Under Levin, the administration developed a strong base of alumni donors, with whom Yale’s senior administrators maintain relationships. In doing so, Yale has aligned donors’ visions to its own. And so, for the last 20 years, the answer was an unequivocal no.

    157 Church, 105 Wall

    Eli Yale. John Sterling. Edward Harkness. Paul Mellon. These names scaffold our lives here: we walk through, under and over them daily.

    “If you think about the history of Yale, it’s always been this way, going back to Eli Yale himself, whether he classifies as a major donor or a principal donor or a cosmic donor” said Professor John Gaddis.  “There’s always been this tradition of giving.”

    Ed and Sid Bass. John and Susan Jackson. Stephen and Denise Adams. Whitney and Betty Macmillan. Edward Evans. Charles Johnson. They have not altered Yale in the way that those four Olympian donors did, when the institution was smaller, less complex and easier to redefine. But these more contemporary names frame our time at Yale as well.

    No gift appears out of thin air — it has to be coaxed and shaped by the university. The development office is ultimately responsible. You can hear O’Neill’s conviction in Yale’s mission when she talks about the 26 years she’s spent at Yale. From her office on the ninth floor of 157 Church Street you can see the names: Harkness tower, chief amongst them.

    O’Neill’s staff seeks to build relationships, the objectives of which are threefold: convince the donor to give as much as possible, convince the donor to put few restrictions on the funds and then convince them to come back, this time with an even larger check.

    The office “tracks” about 300 donors. Most employees are responsible for a set group who give repeatedly and generously. But just how much is generous? The simple answer is $100,000. According to O’Neill, aside from reunion and annual giving, there is little organizational emphasis on seeking out gifts less than that.

    Above that threshold, two major donation groups split the office: “major gifts” — up to $5 million — and “principal gifts” — where the sky’s the limit. Within each cohort, development staff work in geographic regions, although all the staff are based in New Haven. Each regional cohort is also assigned a small part of New York state, the source of a tremendous proportion of Yale’s donations.

    O’Neill says that about 250 of the donors are considered “major” while 60 are “principal,” but the distinction is permeable. If the development staff member does a good job, a donor with enough resources will eventually make the jump from major to principal, in which case the staff member often stays with them.

    “Could you see yourself doing something that would be truly transformational?” O’Neill said the development office asks its donors. “For some people our role is to help them see how they could do that.”

    But for many of Yale’s most important donors, the office they interact with is not at 157 Church Street, but 105 Wall, Woodbridge Hall — the office of the president — Warner House or other administrative buildings across campus.

    It is in relationships between Yale’s most generous donors and senior administrators that most large gifts are born. They originate in conversations over cocktails and dinner at alumni events, phone calls and one-on-one meetings.

    “Typically, Peter or I or Mary talk to them,” Provost Benjamin Polak said. “We always ask what they’re interested in supporting and we’ll say the ideas we have and make it a conversation.”

    But while the administration’s approach appears uniform from the outside, different administrators find themselves at different points on the development learning curve. Polak is a fast-talking Brit and, like Levin, a former chair of the economics department. Still, he admitted that fundraising can be difficult for him.

    “Peter and Mary are both masterful at this and I’m still learning, and Development is teaching me,” Polak said. “They hold my hand a fair amount and teach me how to do things, give me pointers on what I did right and did wrong afterwards.”

    Polak’s worry about this initial insecurity makes sense. In the long run, getting donations has everything to do with personal relationships.

    Music School Dean Robert Blocker got to know Stephen and Denise Adams during his first year at Yale in 1995. In 2005, the couple anonymously gave $100 million to the School of Music, at the time the University’s largest-ever donation. Blocker said the idea for the donation grew slowly and with the help of a series of administrators.

    “I’ve always felt that everyone at an institution is a development officer,” Blocker said. “We all have a stake in this that’s really important.”

    These relationships with donors take place primarily with administrators. Professors, or those directly benefited by the money, work with the administration on what to do with a gift, but don’t know exactly how many shared cocktails it took to get there.

    Professor John Gaddis, the co-director of the University’s Grand Strategy program, which was also supported by a gift from Johnson, couldn’t pin down the details of how exactly Levin got that gift.

    “We only have the barest inkling of the work that goes on in that regard,” he said.

    Did the Grand Strategists have a plan?

    Another Johnson donation, given together with Nicholas Brady ’52, secured Grand Strategy’s future, but the program didn’t always have financial independence.

    When Professor John Gaddis came to Yale in 1997, all he had was a quirky idea. He rallied professors Paul Kennedy and Charles Hill to help him build a class of students competitively culled from every corner of the University to study, and practice, the art of statecraft. It would run January to January and with a summer component.

    Today, the prospect of a penniless Grand Strategy may seem silly. Few programs at Yale can rival the cultish devotion the course receives. No other class has attracted as much sustained national attention or fueled as widespread a copycat spree. Grand Strategy seems as firmly anchored in Yale’s collective psychic life as Freshman Screws and President Salovey’s moustache.

    But what is now the class’s strength was orginally a bar to its continued stability. Grand Strategy is stubbornly interdisciplinary. Gaddis, Kennedy and Hill insisted on a broad focus, and defied the University’s practice of distributing funds by department.

    “When there are ideas [like Grand Strategy] that are not confined to or based in an established department, then they have got to look for money, because the departments aren’t going to fund them,” professor Hill said. “They’re going to have to fund themselves.”

    At first, the program had no endowment. According to professor Gaddis, start-up funds came largely from foundations. But Gaddis didn’t mind that the program started without the administration’s guiding hand.

    Levin, he said, “never had a vision that said, ‘We will create a Grand Strategy program 10 years into my presidency.’ The vision was more to leave room for faculty to experiment, to keep an eye on collaborations that work and, where they have proven they can work, find ways to support them.”

    World events threw that waiting period into fast-forward. Following the tragedy of 9/11, the need for international security and leadership programs like Grand Strategy fell into sharp relief.

    The course instructors had originally planned to run the course every other year. But “the mood of the country, the intellectual scene, was such that we couldn’t not do it every year,” Hill said.

    And, as its profile grew, many alumni began to perceive Grand Strategy as the revival of Old Blue values.

    “We attracted the attention of old Yalies,” Kennedy said. “This had been what they studied in Yale in the thirties and forties, and had disappeared in favor of social studies and history-from-below … They saw this as a kind of resurrection.”

    The program went down especially well with two Yale College alumni. One of them was Charles Johnson. The other, Nicholas Brady, had been Secretary of the Treasury under President Reagan. In 2006, the two made a combined donation of $17.5 million as a “wasting endowment” to finance the program — then in its sixth year — for an estimated 15 years to come.

    The program’s three founders offer slightly different stories of how this gift was finessed. Together, their versions combine into a Russian doll of social connections, a sort of X-knows-Y-knows-Z. If we accept the metaphor, then one thing is clear: President Levin was the doll that held it all together.

    “What happened is that President Levin very carefully watched what we were doing, without saying anything, and once he was satisfied that this had legs, then he began talking to donors without our knowledge,” Gaddis said. “We’d say, ‘Please, Rick, raise some money for us,’ and he’d just smile.”

    Perhaps it’s fitting that, as in real-world diplomacy, the gift negotiations had multiple tracks. Levin may have been the only one talking money, but he wasn’t alone in the conversation. Professor Hill was acquainted with Brady from their time in government under the Reagan administration, when Hill was working in the State Department and Brady was running the Treasury. Hill told Brady about the Grand Strategy program, and Brady pulled in his old friend and golf buddy, Charles Johnson.

    And then there’s another layer: former University Secretary Sam Chauncey ’57, a Yale legend credited with pulling the university through the mayhem of the 1970 New Haven Black Panther trials. Kennedy said it was Chauncey who sat in on the class and later infected Brady with his enthusiasm for the program. Now it is Brady, as one of the program’s benefactors, who sits in on the occasional Grand Strategy class.

    But for all that investment, Hill said Johnson and Brady are “entirely hands off.” And Gaddis confirmed that when Brady handed over the check, he did so with only one condition: “Teach common sense.”

    Courtship and quarrels

    The university’s work bringing in major gifts has created successful programs and buildings, but when the few give so much, it’s easy to imagine them having undue control. It’s up to Yale’s administration to makes sure that gifts align more with Yale’s goals than the desires of potential donors.

    Legal contracts and cocktail conversations aside, O’Neill said out-of-line priorities are unlikely to come up in the first place because most major donors attended Yale, and specifically Yale College, themselves. An alumnus of Yale College is far less likely to want to give $50 million for an undergraduate business program — well outside the university’s liberal arts ethos — than someone who did not spend four years in New Haven, O’Neill said. One with a several-year-long relationship to senior administrators would have an even better idea of what would be relevant.

    “If you have no connection to the University but you’re tremendously wealthy and generous, it may take more time to figure out how Yale works,” O’Neill said. And these connections pay off: “We raise much more money from alumni than a lot of our peers.”

    A more common challenge for the development office is ensuring that gifts conform not only to the University’s current priorities, but also to its future plans. Developing the direction for a gift is a constant back-and-forth — donors often want to see their money fund a particular thing, or aid in a particular university initiative. For Yale, though, the best donations are those with the least of these restrictions.

    In the 19th century, donors endowed research on hot air balloons and professorships that focused on railroad engineering. Those funds, many of which have grown over the years, pose a major challenge to the University: how can a gift legally intended for a thing that is no longer relevant be used now? Polak says that lawyers can be creative — that gift for hot air balloons, for instance, might be used to study space travel.

    An institution with the lifespan of Yale, 312 years this week, has to think about how it will fund itself not just now, but in some distant future. The Yale of 2113 will be fundamentally different, just as the Yales of 1913 or 1713 bear little resemblance to today’s university.

    “We want the indentures to be written as broadly as possible. Suppose someone gave a gift in 1750. We want that gift to still be appropriate in 2013 and we want to describe the gift, particularly if it’s an endowment gift, so it can be relevant forever,” Polak said. “That’s a challenge.”

    The university never wants to be stagnant, which has led to the recent creation of gifts with self-limiting mechanisms. The Brady-Johnson endowment for Grand Strategy, for instance, is wasting, meaning that it will draw down to zero over approximately 17 years. Because of budgeting, though, the fund will likely last for 24, according to Kennedy’s estimates.

    By the time that endowment expires, Kennedy says, Brady, Johnson, Gaddis and himself will most likely be “pushing up daisies.” And, as Gaddis says, “it’s healthy for a program to reconsider itself every few years.”

    By planning this way, the University won’t have to figure out what to do with an irrelevant gift 100 years from now, because the money will have long been spent. But the question of what is relevant sets off heated debate among Yale faculty.

    Despite Levin’s 2000 commitment to invest $1 billion in Yale’s sciences, a large number of the science faculty feel ignored by the development process. Sidney Altman, a Nobel-prize laureate in Chemistry and former dean of Yale College, bemoaned the lack of attention his field receives from donors.

    “Nobody’s raised any money for us for a long long time,” said Altman. He called the situation “hopeless” and believes that Salovey’s presidency will make no difference.

    In an email to the University Monday, Polak announced plans to build a new biology building. But, the email said, he did not expect it to be gift-funded, which means the university must borrow to complete the project.

    Some parts of the University may be wanting for funds, but the administration occasionally turns away gifts that just don’t work.

    In 1995, then-president Levin returned a $20 million gift to Lee Bass, a relative of Ed and Sid Bass, four years after he gave it to Yale. The original intent of the gift had been to create an intensive one-year program in Western civilization, which at the time many compared to Directed Studies. For three years, the program’s creation moved slowly. But in late 1994, it looked as though the program was finally near realization.

    And that’s where Yale and Bass hit a roadblock. Bass wanted to oversee which professors would teach in the program, a condition that then-University director of public information Gary Fryer called “simply unheard of” in the Yale Herald at the time. Discussions quickly broke down, and Levin sent Bass his check back.

    The “Bass fiasco” as it came to be known, was a major embarrassment to the University only two years into Levin’s term, evidencing a failure in the development process. Nearly 20 years later, he says it is his single largest regret from his time at Yale.

    “It worked its way to an endgame in which he made an unreasonable demand on us,” Levin said at the News’ 135th anniversary celebration in Apr. 2013. “I really screwed up there.”

    A new sheriff in town

    Over 20 years, former President Richard Levin built up an astounding series of relationships with donors. Yale has Levin to thank for gifts that expanded financial aid, renovated the University’s facilities and expanded its international presence. And Yale students, regardless of how they feel about the new colleges, can look to Levin as the source of the Johnson donation.

    But University leadership has shifted. Levin, although he still has relations with donors, is now in a volunteer role and transferring his contacts over to Peter Salovey. Polak is now provost, and Dean Mary Miller’s term is nearing completion — whether she will stay on as Yale College Dean is uncertain.

    Salovey has occupied his office in Woodbridge Hall since Jul. 1, but he has been focusing on fundraising since well before then. All of the senior administrators and deans interviewed for this article described the transition to Salovey as smooth. As provost, dean of the graduate school and dean of Yale College, Salovey gradually gained fundraising expertise. Levin groomed him for his new job over the last five years, and he no doubt picked up some of the former president’s talent.

    Right now, O’Neill says, Salovey is spending time getting to know donors — a tough task given his commitment to being more visible on campus. He often leaves on Sunday night — when no one will miss him — for development trips to alumni across the country, returning to campus within a day.

    When Levin came into office 20 years ago, relations with alumni could not have been much worse, and development suffered as a consequence. Over two decades, though, he reshaped University giving, which in turn allowed him to reshape Yale.

    Unlike his predecessor, Salovey will inherit a stable Yale when he dons the President’s Collar on Sunday in Woolsey Hall. In the months and years to come, it seems unlikely that he will act much differently from Levin in the fundraising realm; Salovey is a student of Levin and Levin’s model works.

    The ultimate question, then, is what he will do with all that money.