David Geffen’s Donation to Yale School of Drama Sparks Backlash

The donation factors into several ongoing debates

David Geffen
David Geffen attends Prostate Cancer Foundation's Dinner At Daniel on November 19, 2019 at Daniel in New York City.
Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Last month, Yale University made a significant announcement: David Geffen had donated $150 million to its School of Drama, which would make tuition for all who attended it free. Henceforth, the aforementioned institution will be known as the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale University. It’s not the first instance of a university renaming a school after a donor, and it’s unlikely to be the last. But it hasn’t come without some controversy.

As Charles McNulty writes at the Los Angeles Times, there’s been something of a backlash to Geffen’s donation. Well, it’s less about the donation itself and more about the renaming of the School of Drama.

“The Yale School of Drama is a storied institution, built on the contributions of its graduates to the American theater, not a fungible brand to be put up for auction,” McNulty writes — hence the shock felt by many faculty and alumni. And odds are good that you’re familiar with the program’s alumni, including Meryl Streep and recent Emmy nominee Jonathan Majors, who revealed a surprising element of his Yale training in a recent interview.

The Times article points out that the Yale School of Music also doesn’t charge tuition following a 2005 donation — though that did not result in any changes to the school’s name.

Geffen’s donation also comes at a time when substantial donations to Ivy League universities are under more scrutiny, as is the practice of the very wealthy having their names emblazoned on institutions. It’s the latest entry in a constant debate, and it’s something unlikely to end here.

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