A $500 Million Gift to Bard College

In this undated photograph George Soros is shown discussing the importance of philanthropy with Lifestyles Magazine/Meaningful Influence founder Gabriel Erem.

Exactly 19 years ago when Lifestyles Magazine celebrated its 30th anniversary, our anniversary cover story featured an exclusive interview with American Historian and Philanthropist Susan Weber Soros. The interview focused on her family’s deep commitment to Bard College. Weber was executive director of the Open Society Institute (OSI), the umbrella name for some 24 independent foundations that support the advancement of freedom of expression around the globe. OSI also supports cultural exchange through grants to individuals and associations.

Weber is an art historian, curator, antiques dealer, documentary filmmaker, professor, and, with the establishment of BGC in 1993, a director of uncommon expansiveness who has elevated the study of material culture, design, and curatorial practice to that of a fine art. Material culture was marginal in 1992. Only two graduate programs existed in the United States: One was the Winterthur program at the University of Delaware, with its American focus, and the other was the newly formed Cooper-Hewitt’s National Design Museum program, where Weber was among the first to earn a master’s degree. Today BGC is an internationally respected institute that trains curators and collaborates on exhibitions for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), and other leading institutions.

In 1991, Susan Soros was turned down for the job of director of graduate education at the Parsons School of Design. So, with $20 million of her husband’s money, she started her own school in 1993, establishing the Bard Graduate Center where she is professor of the history of the decorative arts. BGC offers graduate degrees in history of the decorative and applied arts, cultural and design history, garden history, and landscape studies. The Bard Center is one of only four places in the United States where a student can obtain an advanced degree in the decorative arts.

Susan Weber Soros and George Soros are no longer married (divorced since 2005) but it appears that their dedication to Bard College is stronger than ever.

Most recently it has been announced that multi-billionaire George Soros pledged $500 million to the private liberal arts college in New York, one of the largest single donations given to a university in higher education history, the school said.

Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, said the money will help establish a $1 billion endowment, calling Soros’s gift the “most historic moment” since the school was founded in 1860.

George Soros previously pledged $1 billion to help establish the Open Society University Network, which globally connects educational institutions to integrate curricula and encourage civic engagement among students. Bard College is one of the founding partners of the network.

“Bard has had an outsize impact, setting the standard in liberal arts education in prisons, in high school-age students, and in the arts and in its international work,” Mr. Soros said.