Ken Griffin’s Naming Gift for the Graduate School

Prominent donor further supports Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Ken Griffin

Kenneth C. Griffin ’89, founder and chief executive officer of Citadel LLC, the multibillion-dollar hedge-fund and financial-services company, has donated $300 million to Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). In an April 11 letter emailed to the Harvard community, President Lawrence S. Bacow and President-elect Claudine Gay announced that, in recognition of his decades of philanthropic support, the University will name the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences—currently celebrating its 150th anniversary—in his honor. Griffin previously donated $150 million, principally for undergraduate financial aid, in 2014, which was the largest gift in the College’s history. He also endowed the Griffin professorship of business administration at Harvard Business School and a professorship in economics in honor of the late Martin Feldstein (1939-2019), who was Baker professor of economics and president and chief executive officer of the National Bureau of Economic Research from 1978 to 2008. He has also made major gifts to Harvard Law School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and has supported important University priorities such as stem cell research. He created a scholarship in honor of his grandfather, Wayne R. Gratz, in 1999. Griffin’s donations to Harvard now total more than $500 million.

Supporting Arts and Sciences

“Ken’s exceptional generosity and steadfast devotion enable excellence and opportunity at Harvard,” said Bacow in a statement. “His choice to support FAS underscores the power of education to transform lives and to expand the reach of our research in every field imaginable. It has been a great pleasure to get to know Ken throughout my presidency, and I am deeply and personally appreciative of the confidence he has placed in us—and in our mission—to do good in the world.”

In 2014, at the time of his transformative gift in support of financial aid at the College, Griffin said that it was “extremely important that students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to challenge themselves, learn to solve complex problems, and ultimately better our world.” His goal, he said then, was to “ensure that Harvard’s need-blind admission policy continues, and that our nation’s best and brightest have continued access to this outstanding institution.” (Harvard recently announced that it would boost its financial aid initiative beginning with the class of 2027, making attendance—including tuition, housing, meals, and fees—free for children of families with incomes below $85,000.)

Of his latest gift, according to a University statement, Griffin said that “Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences is committed to advancing ideas that will shape humanity’s future, while providing important insight into our past,” adding that he is “excited to support the impactful work of this great institution.” 

FAS leader Gay noted that she has “witnessed firsthand the impact of Ken’s philanthropy” in her time as dean. “His extraordinary investment in our institution and, notably, his understanding of the power of unrestricted funds, have been essential to our school’s ability to confidently advance academic excellence in service to the world, while navigating headwinds from the pandemic to shifts in the economy.” 

Planning in FAS, Engineering, and the Graduate School

The gift to FAS comes at a time when it is engaged in a strategic planning process focused on sustaining excellence in graduate education, enhancing faculty support and development, and rethinking the organization of academic communities. During a conversation in mid-2021, Gay observed that an analysis of FAS’s position during the upheaval caused by the pandemic had revealed that its academic obligations exceed its financial resources, much of which is in the form of restricted funds, given for a specific purpose. At that time, she expressed a need for greater “flexibility that supports innovation,” so that financial and intellectual capital could be deployed in ways that address high priority research and educational needs. She shared a detailed picture of the situation with faculty colleagues in a report issued in 2021, and invited them to join her in the process of strategic planning. An all-faculty retreat to review the future direction of FAS is planned for August, with implementation anticipated in the 2023-2024 academic year.

The FAS includes the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, which has grown dramatically since its founding in 2007. Students who graduate from SEAS and other Harvard schools and departments with degrees in the sciences and engineering have been in high demand.

FAS is also home to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), which administers some 57 doctoral programs, and boasts an extraordinary catalogue of contributions to world and life-changing thought and innovation, ranging of late from the development of vaccines and ethical artificial intelligence to advances in data science. But the pandemic era analysis of FAS finances revealed that graduate education—critical to FAS’s mission to advance the future of scholarship—is costly (a typical graduate student requires $350,000 in aid over six years), and the cost is growing at a compound annual rate exceeding 7 percent. GSAS students in arts and humanities programs, in particular, will enter a labor market that currently places greater value on quantitative competencies than on the deeply thoughtful qualitative skills characteristic of their disciplines. Concern about the educational and professional outcomes for graduate students was at least part of the thinking behind GSAS Dean Emma Dench’s decision to constrain admissions to the school’s programs in the 2020-21 academic year. Reflecting some of the strains on graduate students, they successfully unionized in 2018, and have since negotiated contracts for increased compensation and benefits.

The school is currently engaged in its own strategic self-appraisal, being conducted by a GSAS Admissions and Graduate Education Working Group. A brief description of the group’s work, which encompasses a review of advising, teaching, employment outcomes, and institutional finances, notes that:

Harvard is known for its excellence in graduate education, but it is impacted by local, national, and global pressures, including changes in the academic job market (particularly in some fields), changes to the costs and funding sources of graduate stipends, and more. The recent Faculty Study Group report also signaled concerns about graduate education, which require evaluation to arrive at actionable recommendations. Given these pressures, now is the time to reflect on what alterations should be made to graduate education to ensure our students graduate with the potential to serve as intellectual leaders for the 21st century. 

The Griffin gift will enable the school to plan carefully for a changed future. “As we celebrate our sesquicentennial this year, we are looking ahead to our next 150 years and imagining what our current students will achieve,” said Emma Dench, GSAS dean and McLean professor of ancient and modern history and of the classics. “This investment in the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences cannot help but support our students as they engage in the inquiry and innovation that will ultimately lead to positive impact on the world.” 

The Donor

Kenneth C. Griffin grew up in Florida, where Citadel, the company he founded in 1990, is now headquartered, and reportedly began trading securities as a sophomore when he was living in Cabot House. He has a long history of philanthropy to educational and charitable institutions, and has also made major donations in support of the arts. In 2017, for example, he made a naming gift of $125 million to the economics department at the University of Chicago, and in 2019, gave the same sum to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, now the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry. He donated $40 million in unrestricted funds to the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2015. 

Griffin’s gift to Harvard puts him in rare company. Until September 2014, only Harvard itself, the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Radcliffe Institute bore family names. That was when the School of Public Health received a naming gift of $350 million in unrestricted endowment funds from the Morningside Foundation, in honor of the late T. H. Chan. Later that same academic year, John A. Paulson, M.B.A ’80, gave a $400 million unrestricted gift to SEAS, which was renamed the Harvard Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in his honor. And now, in recognition of gifts to the University totaling more than $500 million, GSAS has been renamed the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Interestingly, the financial press in January compared the performance of Griffin’s Citadel in 2022, which reportedly earned a record $16 billion in profits for its clients last year, to the $15 billion that Paulson made in 2007 when he bet against subprime mortgages. However, the comparison is not perfectly parallel, since Citadel’s returns were not based on a single trade. The company pursues five core strategies: in equities; commodities; fixed income and macroeconomics; quantitative trading; and credit markets. It made money in all of them.

Bacow and Gay, in their letter to the Harvard community, noted that “generosity and loyalty are among the defining characteristics” of the University’s alumni. With his history of support, Ken Griffin easily counts as among the most loyal and generous.

Read the University announcement here.

Read more articles by Jonathan Shaw

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