New York University has received an unrestricted gift of $20 million from the government of the United Arab Emirates, while Columbia University received $20.5 million earmarked for its public health school from the late Ronald Lauterstein, a Canadian who made his fortune in private nursing and home care services.
The two gifts dwarf all other foreign donations received by each school in the past two years, according to disclosure records filed with the state of New York and obtained by The New York Sun.
The next largest gifts to NYU in 2007 were $1,504,108 from a professor emeritus of German, Eberhard Berent, given to establish a chair of Goethe, and $1,312,670 from the National University of Singapore.
Significant gifts to Columbia this past year came from the The Gatsby Charitable Foundation, nearly $1.5 million; United Nations Development Programme, nearly $1 million, and the Swedish corporation Volvo at $750,000.
The $20 million gift from the United Arab Emirates, listed in NYU's yearly disclosure report, is part of a pledged $50 million, which the university can use where it sees fit.
The president of NYU, John Sexton, has called the Abu Dhabi gift "earnest money," in an interview with The New York Times, claiming it was testing the "bona fides" of the country where his university is now establishing a satellite campus. Abu Dhabi is footing all the bills for the campus, in addition to its unrestricted gift money.
In the past several years, particularly since September 11, 2001, universities have come under increased scrutiny to disclose foreign gifts. While some of these gifts are used to fund scientific research — such as a $14,586,957 gift to Harvard from the United Arab Emirates for medical research in 2006 — others are earmarked for Middle East studies departments and professorships.
According to New York State law, universities must file annual reports with the New York State Department of Education of all gifts or contracts of more than $100,000 from foreign governments and foreign foundations, corporations, and individuals.
NYU has filed an interim report, documenting gifts from July through December 2007. The report lists seven donations.
Columbia's filing report, which covered the entire fiscal year, listed more than 130 donors, though many were below the $100,000 requirement. It received gifts from Brazil, Japan, China, and South Korea, as well as many Western European countries.
While Columbia received no gifts from Gulf States this year, in 2004, Columbia received two notable donations from the region.
A $250,000 donation the university accepted from an unnamed Saudi Arabian was only disclosed after The New York Sun reported that Columbia had filed its foreign donation reports more than five months late.
The same year, the government of the United Arab Emirates contributed $200,000 to a $3 million academic chair named in honor of the late comparative literature professor Edward Said. Columbia originally concealed the list of donors funding the Middle East Studies professorship, which is now held by Rashid Khalidi.
Harvard returned a $2.5 million gift from the president of the United Arab Emirates that was designated for a chair of Islamic religious studies at the Divinity school after a student showed his think-tank hosted speakers that were anti-Semitic.