Out funded

Out funded

Jeremy Quittner

Universities–and their gay students–hit pay dirt, thanks to several philanthropy-minded alums

Last February a small, quiet ceremony ended a 15-year struggle at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. With 50 people looking on, the trustees of the Edward Carpenter Memorial Foundation, an endowment meant to assist lesbian and gay students, transferred its assets to the university for safekeeping.

The ceremony closed a sad chapter of discrimination against gays and lesbians at Dartmouth, marked by the university’s refusal to accept openly gay endowments of any kind. When Ralph Elias, a Dartmouth alumnus from the class of 1932, created the fund in 1985, the university rejected it outright, saying it did not want to recognize gay students as a minority. “At the time, Dartmouth was not ready to attach the words gay and lesbian to an endowment,” says Peter Saccio, a Dartmouth English professor and the foundation’s head trustee. Instead, the fund was managed off-campus for much of the 1980s and ’90s.

The saga of the Carpenter Foundation stands in stark contrast to the transformation that appears to have occurred in the past year on university campuses across the United States over accepting gay-oriented endowments. Now it is evident that a new generation of openly gay philanthropists are pouring sumptuous gifts into the coffers of major mainstream colleges and universities, making the $250,000 Carpenter fund look like little more than a footnote.

But even as the gay donors themselves cite dramatically different reasons for establishing their educational funds, the colleges and universities that have benefited seem overly quick to whitewash their checkered pasts with regard to gay and lesbian issues. Furthermore, a host of independent observers say that the new spate of giving has more to do with economics and the realization that gays and lesbians, many of whom have made vast fortunes in the new technology economy, are an untapped source of riches.

“With this good economy, there are more people who are giving large gifts, because they have so much more money to give,” says Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, based in Washington, D.C. “And a lot of institutions are getting savvier about how to solicit gay couples.”

Just in fall 2000, three top educational institutions saw large gifts earmarked for gay purposes from openly gay philanthropists. In October, Dartmouth accepted without protest a second, larger endowment for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students from gay alumnus Roger Klorese and his partner, David Haney, for $1 million. Likewise, in September the University of California, Berkeley, accepted a $1 million pledge from gay alumnus Jon Stryker for the study of gay issues in architecture design and for capital improvements to a university building. And, in the largest openly gay gift to an American university ever, David Goodhand and Vincent Griski, a gay couple who met at the University of Pennsylvania and who made their fortunes at Microsoft and Goldman Sachs, respectively, donated $2 million to the school for a new building that will house the old gay and lesbian resource center, student offices, and meeting spaces.

So why is all this money pouring in now? After all, it was just three years ago that AIDS activist Larry Kramer’s own proposal to endow a chair for gay and lesbian studies at Yale University, his alma mater, was rejected.

There is a large degree of economic happenstance governing the trend, observers like Palmer say. Primarily, foundation giving is at record levels nationally. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the nation’s 400 largest charities raised $38 billion in 1999, a 13% increase over 1998 and the third consecutive year of double-digit percentage increases. And for 142 of the largest educational institutions, private donations stood at almost $13 billion in 1999, nearly a 10% increase over the previous year.

For colleges and universities specifically, fund-raising reached a fever pitch this year, as schools competed furiously with one another for the best students and the best faculty, says Mark Kalish, president of the New York City-based fund-raising consulting firm Kalish & Associates Inc. “It is the survival of the fittest” for educational institutions, he says.

The new generosity is also the result of organized efforts from private gay foundations such as the Gill Foundation, which encourages gay philanthropists to give openly to mainstream organizations. “We have tried to make gay and lesbian words in philanthropy,” says Katherine Pease, executive director of the Denver-based foundation, “but also to encourage donors to make it known that their gifts are coming from LGBT people–because if you don’t label it as gay money, it is assumed to be straight money.” In addition to funding scores of gay organizations itself, the Gill Foundation, formed in 1994 by Tim Gill, the founder of software firm Quark Inc., holds conferences for other gay philanthropists about effective giving.

Still, the recent college benefactors cite dramatically different reasons for their giving. Some, such as Penn’s Goodhand and Griski, say they wanted to give something back to an alma mater which they feel supported them. After meeting at a school dance in 1983, the couple moved into university housing, where they say they lived together openly. “We got nothing but support for us and our relationship,” Goodhand says.

Others, such as Klorese, a director of product marketing at software company VMware Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif., who left Dartmouth in 1978, say their endowments are a way to revisit a college past that was often marred by homophobia–and to influence the future. “I saw this as a chance to deal with positive changes starting to happen at Dartmouth,” says Klorese, a founder of the college’s first gay and lesbian group, adding that he remembers many antigay incidents at Dartmouth, such as a time in the late ’70s when a fraternity attempted to purge itself of gay members.

And Stryker, the Berkeley grad whose money comes from inheritance rather than from the technology world, says quite simply that his school asked him to make a gift. The campus wanted him to help with seismic reinforcements to the building that houses the College of Environmental Design, from which he graduated in 1989. Stryker says he saw the request as an opportunity to advance gay and lesbian causes at the school–one of the missions of his private philanthropy fund, The Arcus Foundation. “I came back and said I would like to give to [capital improvements], but to do something more exciting and focus more on the issues that our foundation works with–namely, gay and lesbian issues.”

Meanwhile, some schools’ administrators are apparently eager to overlook incidents of homophobia that, in some cases, prompted these large gifts. “It is not accurate to say there is a sudden sea change in the way a university like Penn is responding to the gay and lesbian community,” says University of Pennsylvania provost Robert Barchi, who nonetheless acknowledged that this is the first openly gay gift the university has received in its history specifically to support a new gay and lesbian center. “It is a reflection of something we were at the forefront of 20 years ago.”

Yet Robert Schoenberg, who has directed Penn’s gay and lesbian center since its formation in 1982, says the center came into being because of homophobic incidents on campus, including a serious gay-bashing by another student. “I was hired because a group of gay and straight student leaders said there should be a point person for the community,” he says.

At Dartmouth, Pam Misener, assistant dean of the Office of Student Life and adviser to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students, equivocated when it came to admitting that the Edward Carpenter fund had been rejected by the school on numerous occasions in the 1980s. “I don’t know if the rejection came from the administration or the folks who gave the money,” she says, adding that she put the program together for the February ceremony marking the transfer of the Carpenter funds. According to a college newspaper article from the same month, the program’s text read: “The college, then still defining its policies on sexual minorities, felt unable to accept money so specifically designated.”

But the open discrimination in Dartmouth College’s past is something others can’t forget, and there is nothing equivocal about it for them. The history of Dartmouth is unpleasant on this,” says Saccio, who has taught at the college for 34 years. “I have spent a good deal of my time since 1984 struggling with Dartmouth on these issues.” For Saccio, the college’s acceptance of the Carpenter Foundation, which Elias never lived to see, as well as Klorese’s much larger gift and the other large gifts from openly gay benefactors at major universities is a cause for cautious happiness. “It makes me feel as if I were existing in a new time,” he says.

Quittner also writes for Business Week.

Find out more about gay and lesbian philanthropists at www.advocate.com

COPYRIGHT 2001 Liberation Publications, Inc.

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