But New Yorker writer and “Tipping Point” author Malcolm Gladwell could think of a few.
After all, Harvard is only the world’s richest university, with a $36.4 billion endowment that’s larger than the gross domestic products of Jordan, Bolivia, Iceland and about 90 assorted other countries. Surely there were other institutions that needed Paulson’s support?
Next up for John Paulson: volunteering at the Hermes store on Madison avenue. Let's make this a truly world class retail outlet!— Malcolm Gladwell (@Gladwell) June 3, 2015
Working the coat check at Art basel. They're short staffed!— Malcolm Gladwell (@Gladwell) June 3, 2015
For Gladwell, who typically types an average of five tweets a month, it was a practically unprecedented screed.
If billionaires don't step up, Harvard will soon be down to its last $30 billion.— Malcolm Gladwell (@Gladwell) June 3, 2015
Apparently $200 mil is earmarked for a satellite campus on St Barts.— Malcolm Gladwell (@Gladwell) June 3, 2015
It's going to be named the John Paulson School of Financial Engineering— Malcolm Gladwell (@Gladwell) June 3, 2015
Harvard's pitch to Paulson: not all privileged people are equally privileged!— Malcolm Gladwell (@Gladwell) June 3, 2015
Paulson to Harvard: is there a way to give back without actually giving anything back?— Malcolm Gladwell (@Gladwell) June 3, 2015
And Gladwell wasn’t the only one frustrated by the gift. Vox reporter Dylan Matthews used the news to update a story on why wealthy people should stop donating to Harvard.
“Giving to Harvard is not philanthropy,” he wrote, noting that the majority of students come from families with incomes of over $125,000 and that the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the recipient of Paulson’s donation, serves already well-funded fields like robotics and computer science. “It’s not helping people who need help, and it’s obscene that Paulson is getting a massive tax write-off for it.”
At Quartz, writer Matt Phillips suggested that public charities like universities be required to meet a minimum payout ratio in order to qualify for tax exemptions. A small investment team, MG Squared Investments, offered a range of other ways Paulson could have spent the money: Associates Degrees for 63,877 Americans, feeding every child in D.C. for two years, mosquito nets that would save the lives of 119,760 children overseas.
Inevitably came a backlash to the backlash. Daniel Gilbert, a psychology professor at Harvard, said that donating to the school does help the world’s poor — by promoting research that can reduce poverty.
Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen made a similar argument:
T. Boone Pickens, founder and chairman of B.P. Capital, was less defensive than amused, he told Business Insider.
“My first thought was, hey, wait a minute, get the critic up there and ask, ‘Wait a minute, pal, how much have you given?'” he said of Gladwell. “You may find out he has given, but I have a hard time imagining anyone being critical of a charitable gift.”