Swarthmore Receives Largest Gift In History of The College

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In what amounts to the largest gift ever received by the college, philanthropist and businessman Eugene Lang ’38 has pledged to donate $50 million to help Swarthmore complete its latest fundraising campaign. The announcement of Lang’s donation comes on the heels of the release of a finance report that shows definite but slow economic growth for the college, and will largely go to the completion of the college’s strategic plan.

But while Lang’s donation has just become public, it has been in the works for quite some time. “We started talking about it last summer,” said Rebecca Chopp, President of the college. “He was interested in the facilities need and the direction of the strategic plan.”

Over the next several months, specifics were considered, which, Chopp said, is typical of large donations. “These things are always a process of discussion. First you discuss the ideas, and then only much later do you get around to the details of the money,” she said. According to Chopp, it was only several weeks ago that particulars, like the exact amount to be given, were worked out.

The donation is the latest in a long series of gifts from Lang, who is the college’s most prolific benefactor. Indeed, one can see the effects of Lang’s contributions all over campus, from the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility to the Lang Performance Arts Center. “His philanthropy touches almost every aspect of the college,” said Chopp.

But for Lang, it is not about the numbers. Indeed, Chopp emphasized that Lang’s donations came out of an affinity for the college and students. “He’s given very frequently, and he refuses to talk about the total of his gifts, because for him it’s not about the money, it’s about the college,” she said, adding that of the many scholarships he had provided, most were in another person’s name.

Regardless, the donation will be immensely helpful to the school’s efforts at completing its recently launched capital campaign. “It does mean we can move much faster with the implementation of our strategic plan,” Chopp said.

While the strategic plan, which was approved by the Board of Managers in December of 2011, calls for the implementation of a wide variety of initiatives, it places a special emphasis on improving the resources of the engineering, biology, and psychology departments, which are in need of improvement. Thus, at least part of Lang’s donation will go to related causes, like bettering their facilities.

However, the final allocation and distribution of Lang’s gift is still an open question, and it will take time as well as discussion with faculty and others before the administration determines specifics. “We’ll just have to do the Swarthmore thing we always do,” said Chopp. “We’re very thoughtful people, and we’ll look at the options.”

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