Mystery Donor May Have Started Giving Last Year

By Staff

May 11, 2009

Several colleges and universities who received multimillion-dollar anonymous gifts last year may have been the first of numerous institutions of higher learning who have received donations from a mystery donor.

Inside Higher Ed reports that University of South Florida and California State University at Northridge both received $5 million dollar checks from an anonymous donor last year which were both earmarked for student scholarship funding. At Northridge, the ensuing scholarship fund for high-achieving freshmen was named the Scottsdale Endowment, after the Scottsdale, Arizona bank that issued the check. Similarly, South Florida's gift was used for need-based scholarships, with a focus on women and minority students.

"Because this gift shared many of the same characteristics as the gifts currently making the news, including the emphasis on women and minority scholarships," said Jay Wilson, director of foundation communications for South Florida, "we believe it is possible, if not probable, that we were among the first in the nation to receive a highly-valued gift from this donor."

Hunter College also received a $5 million anonymous donation last fall, and only recently realized that they might have been part of the mysterious campaign.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Inquirer [from an article originally located at] reports that Temple University may have been the first to receive funds from the mystery donor. The school received two checks in January 2008--$1 million for the general fund, and $4 million for scholarships -- which also came from a bank in Arizona. The funds were used to finance about 20 scholarships this year.

"I don't have a clue," said Temple University President Ann Weaver Hart regarding the identity of the donor. "I really can't imagine who it is, if it's someone that I know."

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that at least 18 institutions of higher learning have received gifts from the mystery donor, totaling at least $90 million. All of the schools have female presidents or chancellors.

Last week, the University of Alabama at Birmingham announced that it was the latest to receive one of the coveted mystery gifts. The school received $4 million for scholarships for female and minority students, and $1 million for unrestricted use.

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