Reed Hastings, the co-founder and chief executive of Netflix. Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin, donated $120m to the United Negro College Fund, Spelman College and Morehouse College, the largest-ever individual gift to support scholarships at historically black colleges and universities.  Photo: Mike Cohen/The New York Times
Reed Hastings, the co-founder and chief executive of Netflix. Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin, donated $120m to the United Negro College Fund, Spelman College and Morehouse College, the largest-ever individual gift to support scholarships at historically black colleges and universities. Photo: Mike Cohen/The New York Times

Netflix CEO Hastings gives $120m to historically black colleges in US

By Andrew Ross Sorkin Time of article published Jun 21, 2020

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NEW YORK - Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix, and his wife, Patty Quillin, donated $120 million (R2 billion) to the United Negro College Fund, Spelman College and Morehouse College, the largest-ever individual gift to support scholarships at historically black colleges and universities.

The record donation comes amid protests following the police killing of George Floyd and the national conversation about how to end systemic racism. That conversation has included discussions about how to provide more education and job opportunities for African Americans.

Unlike the Ivy League universities that have endowments in the tens of billions of dollars — Harvard University’s endowment tops $40 billion — the top historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, have endowments that are hundreds of millions of dollars. Spelman’s, for example, is around $390m.

Hastings said he and Quillin wanted to help change that.

They have made education a primary focus of their philanthropy and have given smaller amounts in the past several years to the same institutions. “I think white people in our nation need to accept that it’s a collective responsibility,” Hastings said. Floyd’s killing and the emotional outpouring that followed were “the straw that broke the camel’s back, I think, for the size of the donation,” he added.

Hastings said he hoped that the donation would lead other wealthy individuals to give to HBCUs. “Generally, white capital flows to predominantly white institutions, perpetuating capital isolation,” he and Quillin said in a statement announcing the donation Wednesday. Hastings is worth $5.3bn, according to Bloomberg.

Indeed, many of the largest donations in education have been made by alumni to their alma maters. Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, gave $1.8bnto Johns Hopkins University in 2018; his collective gifts to that school top $3bn.

Last year, billionaire financier Robert F. Smith donated $34mto pay off the debts of Morehouse’s graduating class, one of the biggest individual HBCU donations at the time.
David A Thomas, president of Morehouse, said that raising money at the scale usually given to the top, historically white schools had been near impossible. “The reality is that our alumni have done quite well. But I don’t think we have any billionaires,” he said.

Before he arrived at Morehouse, Thomas taught at Harvard Business School and was the dean at Georgetown University’s business school. “There you had much more wealth within the alumni base, so you don’t have to go out as much,” he said. 

“And it’s easy to raise money from people who aren’t in the alumni base because your alumni can take you to them. Here, it’s really about developing and cultivating relationships, often times with people who don’t know what an HBCU — what that even means.”

The need for funds is particularly acute given the economic challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic is creating both for students and schools, said Michael L Lomax,  the chief executive of the United Negro College Fund, who introduced Hastings and Quillin to Spelman and Morehouse. He is hoping to raise $1bn to address the effects.
“That’s the scale of the need,” Lomax said. “So we’re at about $60m today. Forty million of that is from Patti and Reed. We need not 10 times that amount. We need almost 20 times that amount.”

Hastings and Quillin have been active in education philanthropy and reform for many years. Hastings has promoted charter schools and briefly sat on the board of education in California. He is on the board of Pahara Institute, a nonprofit that helps train teachers and supports the education reform movement. Recode reported Tuesday that Hastings is building a retreat in Colorado for teacher training. He and Quillin have signed the Giving Pledge, promising to give away the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes.

Hastings has also sought to diversify Netflix’s workforce. Netflix reported that 7 percent of its employees in the US are African American, as are 8 percent of its company leaders, which is among the highest in the technology industry (but still only about half the share of African Americans in the overall population). Netflix was an early supporter of high-profile black directors like Ava DuVernay. Yet the company has also been accused of promoting content by race, which it disputes as impossible because, it says, it doesn’t collect information about the ethnicity of its customers.

The large donation to the HBCUs, which will receive $40m each, came as a surprise to their leaders.

“When they first talked to us, they said to us they were making a $20 m gift, and we thought that was unbelievable,” said Mary Schmidt Campbell, Spelman’s president. “I mean, truly I was speechless. I actually cried.”

The next day, she received an email from Quillin: “They were upping it to $40m.” 

- The New York Times Company

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