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$1 billion unrestricted donation may get naming rights to Harvard Medical School
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$1 billion unrestricted donation may get naming rights to Harvard Medical School

According to officially unconfirmed reports, Harvard Medical School’s naming rights may be available.

The asking price?

An unrestricted donation of $1 billion.

The Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — apparently set the cost for renaming Harvard Medical School nearly a decade ago, according to a former Harvard official.

The request for a $1 billion unrestricted gift, which has not been previously reported, would represent the largest single donation in Harvard’s history.

Harvard has slowly begun renaming some of its schools in recognition of philanthropy over the past 10 years.

The University renamed its School of Public Health in 2014 after receiving a $350 million unrestricted donation from a charitable foundation run in part by billionaire Hong Kong investor and HSPH alumnus Gerald L. Chan.

Around the same time, the Corporation decided on prices for the naming rights to HMS and many of the University’s other schools, according to the former Harvard official.

Harvard College and the Harvard Kennedy School — which was renamed as a memorial for former President John F. Kennedy ’40 in 1966 — are almost certainly not options for renaming.

Billionaire hedge fund manager John A. Paulson gave a $400 million unrestricted donation to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 2015. The gift, which was the largest in University history at the time, renamed the school in his honor.

More recently, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences was renamed in honor of hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin ’89 in April after he made a $300 million unrestricted donation to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

In an April 11 press release, the University said GSAS was renamed to recognize Griffin’s “commitment to Harvard’s mission over the years,” which totals more than $500 million.

The Medical School’s $1 billion price tag is significantly higher than the three donations in recent years that renamed HSPH, SEAS, and GSAS. But a decade later, it is unclear if the Corporation has changed its asking price for HMS. (With inflation, $1 billion in 2013 is now worth $1.3 billion).

The renaming of HSPH and SEAS — both of which occurred as part of the University’s most recent capital campaign — indicates that more schools might be renamed when Harvard launches its next University-wide campaign, a move that is expected to occur in the coming years.

A $1 billion donation — while extremely rare — is not unheard of in higher education. Stanford University received a $1.1 billion donation last year to establish a new school of sustainability.

The Medical School received a $200 million donation from the Blavatnik Family Foundation in 2018.

The gift, the largest in HMS history, led the school to rename the 10 academic departments on its main campus as the “Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School.”

The Corporation’s decision to issue price tags for the naming rights to various schools across the University suggests that Harvard is willing to go to great lengths to incentivize its wealthiest donors to make nine and 10-figure donations.

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