Read this very interesting commentary last week and just had to comment on it since it involves a larger issue as well as my favorite university. The piece appeared in The LA Times, among other places, and was written by the President of Dillard University, a historically black college. In it the writer questioned Dr. Dre’s decision to donate, along with another music mogul, $70 million to The University of Southern California.
The two music moguls and co-founders of Beats Electronics — recognizing that they needed a new type of creative talent for their growing music technology business — are funding a four-year program that blends liberal arts, graphic and product design, business and technology.
I understood their need to build a pool of skilled talent. But why at USC? Iovine’s daughter is an alum, sure. And he just gave its commencement address. Andre Young — before he was Dr. Dre — grew up in nearby Compton, where he rose to fame as part of the rap group N.W.A. The Beats headquarters are on L.A.’s Westside.
Still, what if Dre had given $35 million — his half of the USC gift and about 10% of his wealth, according to a Forbes estimate — to an institution that enrolls the very people who supported his career from the beginning? An institution where the majority of students are low-income? A place where $35 million would represent a truly transformational gift?
Why didn’t Dr. Dre give it to a black college?
Make no mistake: This donation is historic. It appears to be the largest gift by a black man to any college or university, comparable to the gift Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille, gave to Spelman College in 1988. Some 25 years later, their $20-million gift (about $39 million in inflation-adjusted dollars) is still the largest-ever private gift to a historically black college. Dre gave USC almost triple the amount Oprah Winfrey has given Morehouse College over the years. Sean “Diddy” Combs gave $500,000 to Howard University in 1999, which he attended before launching a successful career.
A hip-hop icon is now the new black higher-ed philanthropy king. We’ve never seen a donation to rival this from any black celebrity — musician, athlete or actor — and that fact must be celebrated.
But as the president of a black college, it pains me as well. I can’t help but wish that Dre’s wealth, generated as it was by his largely black hip-hop fans, was coming back to support that community.
USC is a great institution, no question. But it has a $3.5-billion endowment, the 21st largest in the nation and much more than every black college — combined. Less than 20% of USC’s student body qualifies for federal Pell Grants, given to students from low-income families, compared with two-thirds of those enrolled at black colleges. USC has also seen a steady decrease in black student enrollment, which is now below 5%.
Very interesting. And you can read more of his arguments here. But I have to respond to that on two levels. The first is that Dr. Dre earned his money the hard way. By rising through the ranks of a very tough business. So he has earned the right to put his money wherever he chooses. The other problem with the school President’s argument is that he has no idea what Dr. Dre has possibly already given to black colleges or put back into the black community. Because this donation made news doesn’t mean he hasn’t made less noticeable donations. Granted this is a huge amount of money. But Dre is from South L.A. where USC is so it is not altogether surprising that he wouldn’t support a university close to his base and in the heart of the entertainment capitol.
And the second key for me is that I cannot think of a better university for Dre to give that donation to. My wife and I are major donors to USC and we support that school for reasons that likely Dre does. It is an excellent private institution that puts out some of the best and brightest talent in many fields but especially entertainment. See, most people think USC is only about football. Not true at all. And it gives a lot to the local minority community that it shares the neighborhood with. So I am a bit biased obviously.
But the main thing to me is that too often people, often other minorities, feel they can tell successful minorities what they should do with their success. Freedom and success mean choices. Minorities deserve that benefit as much as anyone else. Sure, giving back is important. But how a person chooses to do that is up to them. Isn’t that what the movement was all about?