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All About the Controversy That Made Billionaire Len Blavatnik Pause His Support to Harvard

The donation pause is a response to Harvard's handling of antisemitism and President Claudine Gay's statement on it.
Image Source: Photo by Matthis Volquardsen | Pexels
Image Source: Photo by Matthis Volquardsen | Pexels

Billionaire Len Blavatnik, who has been a generous supporter of Harvard University in the past, has decided to stop making donations to the prestigious institution after President Claudine Gay's comments about antisemitism on its campus.

Len Blavatnik, originally from Ukraine and raised in Russia, became wealthy after the collapse of the Soviet Union when state-owned companies went through privatization. Having been a US citizen for over four decades, he has a strong connection to Harvard, the Business School where he graduated. Throughout the years, Blavatnik's family foundation has contributed at least $270 million to Harvard and has also supported various Jewish causes.

Blavatnik, who is of Jewish descent, hasn't laid out specific demands but wants Harvard to ensure the safety and well-being of Jewish students, just like any other students on campus. Despite this pause in donations, Blavatnik is not severing ties with Harvard entirely. Unlike some other donors who have distanced themselves from the university, he is hopeful that Harvard will take steps to address the concerns, and he may resume his support in the future.

Image Source:  Len Blavatnik arrives at the Warner Music Group Pre-Grammy Celebration at Nomad Hotel Los Angeles | Photo by Gregg DeGuire | Getty Images
Len Blavatnik arrives at the Warner Music Group Pre-Grammy Celebration at Nomad Hotel Los Angeles | Photo by Gregg DeGuire | Getty Images

While the news of Blavatnik's decision was reported by Bloomberg, both Harvard and Blavatnik's foundation have chosen not to comment on the matter. Blavatnik simply wants Harvard to improve its approach to the concerns raised.

Harvard, along with other universities, has been facing criticism from certain donors due to their response to the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. Over 1,600 Harvard alumni pledged to withhold donations until stronger measures are taken against antisemitism on campus. The backlash intensified when President Claudine Gay, along with the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and MIT, struggled to provide clear answers about whether calls for the genocide of Jews violated university rules during a recent hearing.

Following this, there were calls for Gay's dismissal, and she later apologized for her testimony. Len Blavatnik's decision to suspend donations deals a significant blow to Harvard, especially since he had previously pledged a record-setting $200 million to Harvard Medical School in 2018. Len Blavatnik, who received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 2017, has a history of donating to universities and political causes. He reportedly contributed to Pete Buttigieg's presidential campaign and the Trump inaugural committee.

Image Source: Photo by Amine  M'siouri  | Pexels
Image Source: Photo by Amine M'siouri | Pexels

This development comes at a time when Harvard is under scrutiny for its handling of antisemitism, and President Claudine Gay has faced criticism for plagiarism. Harvard announced that Gay will issue corrections to her 1997 Ph.D. dissertation to address "inadequate citation." Additionally, Harvard disclosed that early applications fell by 17% to four-year lows last week, adding to the challenges the university is currently grappling with.

Just before revealing her intention to make corrections to her dissertation, President Claudine Gay conducted a virtual town hall with hundreds of faculty members on Tuesday (December 19, 2023), according to a source familiar with the matter. Interestingly, the plagiarism controversy surrounding Gay did not come up during the Zoom town hall with members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as per the source. The event featured about a dozen Harvard faculty members, all of whom expressed support for Gay, as reported by the source.


However, by late Wednesday (20 December 2023), Harvard announced The Harvard Crimson, stating that Gay intends to implement additional corrections to her writings due to "inadequate citation." This development further fueled the ongoing debate regarding plagiarism and raised questions about how Harvard is handling the situation.