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Nike's founder just donated $400 million to Stanford. Is it too much?
A $400 million Nike founder donation to Stanford business school sparks questions of need and impact in charitable giving. - photo by Eric Schulzke
Nike founder Phil Knight is donating $400 million to the Stanford Business School, an announcement that has sparked new questions over endowment arms funneling ever greater sums to a tiny handful of the nation's most elite private universities.

Even as state universities struggle to replace lost public funds, the rich get richer. A recent report by the Council for Aid to Education found that just 1 percent of American colleges and universities last year raised 28 percent of the donations. Stanford led the pack with $1.63 billion, followed by Harvard with $1.05 billion

I think people should be able to donate to whatever they want, but bang for your buck, this might not be the best, Alexander Holt, an education policy analyst at New America, told U.S. News. I think that in the U.S. we focus a lot on the elite colleges, but in fact these colleges are not educating the vast majority of students.

The complaints are not mere sour grapes. The over-the-top donations to institutions who already sport over-the-top endowments has some critics wondering if the taxpayers should be subsidizing this.

"As a U.S. taxpayer, are you suffused with personal pride about this?" asks Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times. "Perhaps you should be, because you're paying for much of it. Assuming that the billionaire Knight, an alumnus of Stanford's business school, is charged the top marginal federal tax rate on his income, the donation will give him a $158 million tax break."

Last year, when billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson gave Harvard $400 million, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell was appalled. Gladwell responded with a series of tweets, including this one:

"Next up for John Paulson: volunteering at the Hermes store on Madison Avenue. Let's make this a truly world class retail outlet!"

As Sarah Kaplan pointed out at the Washington Post, "Harvard is only the worlds richest university, with a $36.4 billion endowment thats larger than the gross domestic products of Jordan, Bolivia, Iceland and about 90 assorted other countries."

A 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service proposed a number of reforms on endowments to redirect funds toward urgently needed higher education priorities. Possibilities addressed in the CRS report included "(1) imposing a minimum payout rate on endowments; (2) imposing a tax on endowments or endowment earnings; [and] (3) limiting the charitable contribution deduction for certain gifts made to endowments."
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