Geffen’s latest showy gift: a $100 million donation to UCLA to “establish a private middle and high school on the Westwood campus partly for the children of faculty and staff.” The underlying purpose of this school is to attract more prestigious faculty talent to UCLA. The LA Times reports that it will be “a recruiting and retention tool for faculty and scientists who may be worried about the cost of living in Los Angeles and the education system here.”
The name of the school? Do you even have to ask? “The Geffen Academy.”
To fully make clear what is happening here, David Geffen, a man worth $7 billion, is giving $100 million to build a private school that will cater to the already privileged employees of a top university, with the underlying purpose of allowing this university to compete for talent with other elite universities. He did not give money to LA’s beleaguered public school system. He did not even give money to, say, establish scholarships for poor kids to attend UCLA. He gave $100 million to build a private school for the children of UCLA faculty.
This is not even David Geffen’s grossest philanthropic gift. This is the same David Geffen, you’ll recall, who gave $100 million to Lincoln Center for the express purpose of putting his own name on the concert hall—going so far as to pay $15 million to the family of Avery Fisher, the guy whose name was already on the concert hall. Which is to say that on top of selecting one of the most elitist and unimportant charitable organizations on the face of the earth, David Geffen actually reduced his donation by $15 million explicitly out of a narcissistic desire to see his own name honored. It was the type of charitable donation that one hopes brings shame to David Geffen’s reputation, rather than the esteem he was so crudely seeking to buy. This pathological prestige-purchasing has been a hallmark of Geffen’s for decades. His name adorns museums and theaters and other such rich person charities of choice from coast to coast. So extreme is his desire for praise that even when he donates to a worthy charity like the food outreach program God’s Love We Deliver, he insists on having a building named for himself.
One hundred million dollars can do a lot of good. For example, GiveWell estimates that a donation of that size to the Against Malaria foundation could save nearly 30,000 lives. To repeat: this money could save thirty thousand human lives. Instead, David Geffen is building a private school with it so that his favorite university might gain a bit of prestige, if there is any left over after he has sucked it all in like a black hole. The same donation could have allowed Oxfam to build 66,000 schools for girls in developing countries. But certainly a private school for UCLA faculty is more important. One hundred million dollars could provide a year’s worth of safe drinking water to 119,000,000 people. To David Geffen, that is less important than seeing his own name engraved atop Lincoln Center.
Yes, charity is better than no charity. But no, all charitable giving is not created equal. When David Geffen decides to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to charities, he must then decide where that money goes, and how it is used. It could be used to save thousands and thousands of lives. Instead, it is used to glorify David Geffen.
No amount of money can disguise the fact that David Geffen is a rich prick.