“My Little Hundred Million”: Best-selling author’s podcast celebrates Henry Rowan, explores higher ed philanthropy

“My Little Hundred Million”: Best-selling author’s podcast celebrates Henry Rowan, explores higher ed philanthropy

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Mr. Rowan at the unveiling of his sculpture.

Renowned author Malcolm Gladwell salutes Henry Rowan in his July 21 Revisionist History podcast “My Little Hundred Million,” which provides an in-depth look at philanthropy in higher education.

Acknowledging that the $100-million, headline-making donation Mr. Rowan and his wife Betty made to then-Glassboro State College in 1992 was “unheard-of money,” Gladwell explores the lack of other philanthropists following Mr. Rowan’s lead.

Introducing the approximate 40-minute podcast, Gladwell says, “This episode is my eulogy for Hank Rowan. I never met him, but he’s a hero of mine. I want to understand why he didn’t become everyone’s hero . . . why Hank Rowan’s example didn’t spread beyond Glassboro, New Jersey.”

Of the 87 gifts of $100 million or more made since the Rowans’ gift, the vast majority have gone to elite private schools. “. . .Basically we’re talking about the same wealthy, elite schools getting the biggest donations again and again,” the author says.

“Hank Rowan did something unprecedented, and nobody followed him,” adds Gladwell.

Higher education “runs on philanthropy,” Gladwell states, but a lot of contributions don’t make any sense and go to “the wrong places for the wrong reasons.”

Using sports, air travel and the Industrial Revolution as analogies, he makes the case that the country will better transform higher education by donating more to schools beyond the Ivy League and comparable institutions.

Like Mr. Rowan, he believes the best way to improve education is giving to other schools, those not considered “the superstars.”

The podcast includes a 2006 interview with Mr. Rowan in which he discusses the possibility of donating to his alma mater, MIT, which at the time of his gift was in the middle of a $750-million fundraising campaign. “My little hundred million wouldn’t have made hardly any difference at all,” he says.

Mr. Rowan’s daughter, Virginia Rowan Smith, recalls a conversation with her father in which he says, “It wouldn’t make the difference that it’s going to make down here (in Glassboro). I enjoy making a difference in this world.”

Gladwell is the New York Times-bestselling author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath. TIME magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people. During 10 weeks of Revisionist History, Gladwell and Panoply Media review and reinterpret an event, person or idea from the past.