Harvard’s Billion-Dollar Question

October 3, 2013


Bill Gates: Oh, come on. Pick up!


BG: Last chance!

Fund-Raiser: Hello! Office of development, Harvard University. How can I help you?

BG: I want to speak with a fund-raiser.

FR: Speaking!

BG: Great. This is Bill Gates. You know, THE Bill Gates. The Microsoft guy.

FR: Yeah, O.K. Like I haven’t heard that one before.

BG: No, really. Don’t I sound like Bill Gates? Should we Skype instead?

FR: Uh, sorry, Mr. Gates. What can I do for you?

BG: I just attended Harvard’s campaign kickoff event. Very impressive stuff. $6.5 billion is a pretty big goal, wouldn’t you say?

FR: The biggest ever!

BG: Well, I’ve been giving some thought to how I can help. I’d like to begin discussing a gift.

FR: That’s fantastic! How much… er, what are you interested in supporting?

BG: I’m not sure. I’m a bit of a techie, you know, so computer science and engineering pique my interest. But if I were to go that route, I might as well donate to MIT.

FR: {nervous laugh}

BG: Kidding. I’m also into social causes and international concerns, so perhaps something at the Ed School or Kennedy School could be interesting. But of course I’m a businessman at heart, so I kind of gravitate to the B-School.

FR: Perhaps you should speak with the president or the business dean.

BG: In time. For now, I’m just exploring options. I could fund scholarships for undergrads. I did attend the College, you know.

FR: For about a week, right?

BG: Something like that. And I’m a proud alumnus.

FR: We’re proud too.

BG: In fact, I’m thankful enough to make a really significant gift to your campaign. I hear these mega-campaigns get 95 percent of their money from only 5 percent of the donors. Is that true?

FR: Absolutely. We’re not raising $6.5 billion a hundred grand at a pop.

BG: And what’s the highest gift you’re expecting?

FR: Lead gifts can total 15-20 percent of the goal.

BG: So that’s, let me see… carry the four… about a billion dollars?

FR: Suppose so.

BG: Wouldn’t that be a record too?

FR: Sure would!

BG: Hmmm…. So back to the B-School. What if I gave half a billion to rename it?

FR: Say what?

BG: The Gates School of Business. Think it would fly?

FR: I… uh… don’t think so.

BG: Why not? I could rename Cleveland for that amount.

FR: Harvard Business School has more brand cachet than Cleveland.

BG: A cool billion? Would they go for it then?

FR: I’m not sure the name is for sale. Even for that sum. We have too much brand equity at stake.

BG: But I’d be adding value to the brand! Gates… Harvard… business. Come on now! I bet my pal Warren would think it’s a great idea.

FR: Get him to match your gift and maybe we’ll talk. Meanwhile, how about naming a building?

BG: For a billion? Must be one hell of a building. How about the Gates Campus at Harvard Business School?

FR: Sounds like we’ve built a fortress to keep people out.

BG: Nah… I still think naming the school is the way to go. Everything has a price.

FR: That’s for others to decide.

BG: Two billion… Gates University… hmmm…. Sorry, was that out loud?

FR: I’ll patch you through to the president’s office. Thanks for calling, Mr. Gates!

BG: How much to rename the Ivy League? Hmmm….

FR: Transferring!


Mark J. Drozdowski is director of university communications at the University of New Haven. This is the latest installment of an occasional humor column, Special Edification.

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