Would you publicly shame a generous philanthropist who just contributed $100 million?
Dylan Matthews, a writer at the blog site Vox, has done just that in his recent post: “David Geffen’s $100 Million Gift to UCLA is Philanthropy at Its Absolute Worst.”
The post came after David Geffen, the billionaire entertainment mogul and philanthropist, announced that he is donating $100 million to the University of California, Los Angeles, to build a private school aimed, in part, at serving the families of UCLA’s faculty and staff, according to a Los Angeles Times article.
Geffen and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block described the new school, in part, as a recruiting and retention tool for faculty and scientists who may be worried about the cost of living in Los Angeles and the quality of the Los Angeles education system, the Times reports.
The gift to create the Geffen Academy was not the philanthropist’s first donation to UCLA. He has already contributed $300 million to what is now UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. Through his gifts to UCLA, Geffen told the Times, he wants to help the medical school “to be competitive with Harvard and Johns Hopkins and the very best in the world.”
While many might think Geffen’s generosity is noble, Matthews clearly feels otherwise:
Music mogul David Geffen is very, very bad at being a philanthropist. His past donations have mostly taken the form of massive gifts to prominent universities and cultural institutions, rather than to poor people or important research or even less famous, more financially desperate universities and arts centers.”
In short, the Vox blogger says that Geffen is a “ very, very bad” philanthropist because he does not give to causes that Matthews believes he should support. This is a perfect illustration of holier-than-thou liberalism (not to be confused with liberalism).
Matthews calls Geffen’s philanthropy a “grotesque waste.” He adds, “This gift is actually worse than no charity.” He disparages Geffen’s desire to have UCLA compete successfully with Harvard and Johns Hopkins. He even insults the students who will be attending the Geffen Academy by dismissing them as “faculty brats.”
Interestingly, I discovered one reason why Matthews might really be opposed to the Geffen gift. Geffen wants UCLA to be able to compete more effectively with Harvard. Well, guess what? Matthews is a Harvard alumnus, something he neglected to point out in his blog post. That conflict of interest aside, I also noticed that most of the charities that Matthews thinks would be worthier of Geffen’s support work in the developing world. Could it be that Matthews believes in white paternalism and/or keeping people of color dependent on white, Western charity? Is Matthews of the belief that there are no needy children in the US or is it that he’s simply anti-American?
So, Mr. Matthews, how do you like having your motives judged and your character impugned? Normally, I wouldn’t have done so, but I decided to take a moment to adopt your writing voice. I also thought it might be interesting for someone to hold a mirror up to you.
I won’t go into why the Geffen donations are beneficial. Suffice to say they will do a great deal of good from creating good paying jobs to enhancing medical education and research. It might not be what you or I would support. It’s certainly not what Matthews would support. But, the fact is, it’s not our money. It’s Geffen’s wallet, and he can empty it however he wishes, or not at all. If Matthews wants $100 million to go to the various causes he listed, let him go out and earn it so he can give away his own money where he sees fit.
By the way, Geffen’s philanthropy is fairly diverse. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t know it after reading Matthews post. For example, in addition to donating to UCLA and the arts, Geffen has contributed significantly to AIDS research, something Matthews could have pointed out for balance. Instead, Matthews chose to write a hatchet piece that supported his own hidden agenda.
Shaming Geffen for his philanthropic choices is simply shameful. Geffen plans to donate his entire $7 billion fortune to nonprofit organizations. I applaud him for his generous philanthropic spirit. We need more philanthropists like Geffen. Suggesting that wealthy people should not donate at all unless their giving conforms to our philanthropic objectives rather than theirs is supremely arrogant and even dangerous.
When trying to learn more about Matthews, in order to better understand his point of view, I checked out his Twitter feed. I noticed his Twitter description, which reads in part:
I know, I know, I don’t like me either.”
This reminded me of a line in the song “Playas Gon’ Play” by the group 3LW in 2001:
Haters gonna hate.”
Since Matthews doesn’t even like himself, I’m not surprised he doesn’t like Geffen.
In contrast to Matthews, I’m a champion of philanthropy. And I have some suggestions.
Let’s refrain from questioning the motives of philanthropists. Let’s avoid disparaging their choices simply because they don’t conform to our own. Let’s never publicly shame philanthropists or would-be philanthropists.
Rather than shaming philanthropists, let’s inspire them to give to worthy causes by preparing meaningful cases for support. Let’s match the needs of our organizations with the philanthropic aspirations of our donors. Let’s celebrate philanthropy. Let’s recognize the good that philanthropists allow charities to do. Let’s be positive instead negative. Let’s encourage rather than discourage others. Let’s remember that good manners should never go out of fashion.
Let’s not be haters. After all, the word philanthropy means love of humankind.
That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?