Two Billionaires on the University
January 27, 2013

Two conveniently juxtaposable views on universities today, from two billionaires.

First, Michael Bloomberg made a $350 million commitment to his alma mater Johns Hopkins, which he credits with establishing his future as a leader. The contribution brings his total philanthropy to Johns Hopkins to $1.1 billion. In addition to funding need-based financial aid, Bloomberg's donations have made possible a physics building, a school of public health, a children's hospital, a stem-cell research institute, a malaria institute, and a library wing.

Second, Mark Cuban wonders in the Huffington Post, Will Your College Go Out of Business Before You Graduate?. In addition to suggesting that today's young people and their families "avoid the mess schools are creating for themselves and for those who take the old school way to college graduation," Cuban also marvels, incredulous: "Why in the world are schools building new buildings?"

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Building new buildings on campus is like an arms race. Except unlike the cold war where the Soviet Union collapsed because it was broke ten times over, everyone loses out when schools have to close shop.

Mark Cuban's question reminds me of the rationale for Bloomberg's new Cornell-Technion campus on Roosevelt Island: physically bringing people together, both students and entrepreneurs, helps people do interdisciplinary work and turn their projects into real-life businesses. The main critique I remember from Next American City's piece was that you can't always rely on the maxim, "If you build it, they will come." But sometimes, it does actually work.

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