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HBCUs Slam Restricted Gifts That Dominate Despite Scott, Google

By Simone Silvan

Historically Black colleges and universities have long been saddled with corporate donations with overly specific conditions, Prairie View A&M University President Ruth Simmons said Wednesday in a Bloomberg Virtual Equality Briefing.

A statue of civil rights leader Benjamin Mays stands in front of Samuel. T. Graves Hall at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Friday, July 17, 2020. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg

“When we know they are going across town to a White institution and making a very generous, unrestricted gift, and they come to us, and make a very limited, short-term gift with all kinds of restrictions, that’s tantamount to continuing a tradition of mistreatment for African American institutions,” Simmons said at the Bloomberg event HBCUs: The Path to Prosperity. “So we have to stand up to them and say, ‘I’m sorry, but that won’t do.’”

That’s changing with a wave of multi-million dollar unrestricted donations to HBCUs from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, which were followed this year by grants from companies, including Bank of America Corp. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google. Simmons, the former president of both Brown University and Smith College, spoke alongside presidents of Spelman College and Dillard University, which also received funds from Scott.

Bank of America gave $10 million to form the Center for Black Entrepreneurship at Spelman and Morehouse College without any additional strings, said Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell. She added that Scott’s donation would endow faculty for decades. 

Google also granted $50 million in unrestricted funds to 10 HBCUs, including Spelman and Prairie View. The HBCU presidents at the event agreed that Scott’s gift set a new standard for the philanthropic landscape.

The money also helped shore up institutions that had been struggling even before the pandemic decimated college enrollment.

“So last year, which we thought would perhaps be the beginning of the end for HBCUs, I hope, is a new beginning for HBCUs,” Michael Lomax, chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund, said in an earlier panel discussion about the new influx of funding.

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