Cal State Fullerton Receives $40 Million Gift from Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Main News Photo

(Orange County Register)

A multi-billion dollar donation spree announced by billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott on June 15, included $40 million for Cal State Fullerton, the largest gift the school has ever received.

During an interview in between commencement speeches on June 15, CSUF President Fram Virjee said he “jumped up and down and screamed, ‘Oh my goodness, this is unbelievable,’” when he first heard the news. The gift felt like an “affirmation” to CSUF’s students, the majority of whom are minorities and many first-generation collegegoers, that they “deserve education, and that if we provide the resources for them, they can thrive and they can help us build Orange County into the place that we want it to be in the future,” Virjee said.

The school is “still in the very early stages of allocating this gift,” Virjee said in an early morning announcement to the campus community, noting that leaders deciding how to disburse the funds would keep in mind “our strategic plan and core mission of student success; diversity, equity and inclusion; and faculty research, support and retention.”

Scott put no restrictions on how the gift is used.

Some of the money will go toward the school’s endowment, Virjee said, and another chunk is intended for faculty research. Focusing on its commitment to diversity and inclusion, the school plans to use a portion for programs dedicated to social justice on campus and in the community. And with funds to match potential partners, the donation also gives an opportunity to focus on renovations and building new infrastructure.

Writing to university colleagues, Virjee said the money from Scott is “the direct result of your ever-growing commitment to our students; first to breathe life into their academic goals and life dreams, and then to loudly and proudly share their success with the world.”

It’s rare to receive such a massive gift without spending restrictions, Virjee said, calling the “unrestricted” nature of the donation “an amazing way to do philanthropy and to invest in community.”

“This is a chance in a generation, or in a lifetime, to actually use these funds in a way that we think best, which is why I have so much respect for this donor,” Virjee said.

The CSUF gift is part of $2.7 billion Scott is donating to 286 “high-impact organizations in categories and communities that have been historically underfunded and overlooked,” she announced in an online post-Tuesday morning.

“Higher education is a proven pathway to opportunity,” wrote Scott, who was married to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos before the couple divorced in 2019, “so we looked for two- and four-year institutions successfully educating students who come from communities that have been chronically underserved.”

Along with being the largest gift in Cal State Fullerton’s 64 years, donations from Scott announced Tuesday broke records for giving at Pasadena City College, $30 million; Long Beach City College, $30 million; Cal State Northridge, $40 million; and Cal Poly Pomona (largest individual), $40 million. Cal State Channel Islands received $15 million and Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga was given $25 million.

Donations Tuesday also went to several arts and social justice organizations across the nation, many at work in Southern California and Orange County.

Scott, who in 2019 pledged to donate the majority of her wealth over her lifetime, wrote that she and others who vowed to give away their fortunes – including current husband Dan Jewett – “are governed by a humbling belief that it would be better if disproportionate wealth were not concentrated in a small number of hands, and that the solutions are best designed and implemented by others.”

In 2020, Scott made two similar surprise announcements in which she donated a combined $6 billion to COVID-19 relief, gender equity causes, historically Black colleges and universities, and other schools. Similar to the organizations she picked as recipients last year, Scott said the 286 organizations chosen for Tuesday’s announcement were selected from a rigorous process of research and analysis. That effort included “equity-oriented” nonprofits working in long-neglected areas.

“Her team did a calculation on high-impact organizations that are historically underfunded and overlooked,” CSUF Associate Vice President Ellen Treanor said. “And I think that, by giving us the money, she’s trying to right that wrong.”

Category: Education News, Orange County, Philanthropy