The Legacy of Andrew Carnegie and the Foundations of American Philanthropy
The evening of October 1st saw the annual Stephen M. Kellen lecture at the American Academy, this year presented by Academy trustee and Carnegie Corporation president Vartan Gregorian. Gregorian served as president of The New York Public Library from 1981 to 1989 and as president of Brown University from 1989 to 1997, and prior had taught European and Middle Eastern history at San Francisco State College, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of Texas at Austin. In 1972 he joined the University of Pennsylvania where he became founding dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 1974. He later became its twenty-third provost.
An independent scholar in his own right, Gregorian is the author of The Road To Home: My Life And Times; Islam: A Mosaic, Not A Monolith; and The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan, 1880-1946, and he has been awarded fellowships by the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies and received the Danforth Foundation’s E.H. Harbison Distinguished Teaching Award. The recipient of 70 honorary degrees, Gregorian has also been awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and the American Academy of the Institute of Arts and Letters’ Gold Medal for Service to the Arts, the National Humanities Medal, and the nation’s highest civil award, the Medal of Freedom. In 2009, President Obama appointed Gregorian to the White House Fellowships Commission.
Gregorian's Stephen M. Kellen lecture was about the namesake figure of the instution he has led since 1997. Andrew Carnegie, born in 1835 to a poor family in Dunfermline, Scotland, arrived in the United States in 1848. By the time he sold his great steel empire, in 1901, Carnegie was one of the richest men in the world. By this time, Gregorian explained, he had come to believe that a “great inequality” was inherent in the “concentration of business, industrial and commercial [resources] in the hands of a few.” His solution to this problem was what he called “scientific philanthropy,” a means of disseminating wealth in a useful and socially responsible manner. Carnegie believed that the wealthy have a moral obligation to reinvest their fortunes in society. His approach to philanthropy, which focused on investing in sustainable, long-term efforts aimed at advancing the public good, established standards adopted by other American philanthropic institutions. Over the past century, the diversity of patrons and philanthropic activities in the US has advanced the nation's social, cultural, intellectual, and economic life. The recent appearance of individual philanthropists, such as Bill Gates, has demonstrated that the deep roots of philanthropy in the American ideal of entrepreneurship. The more than1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the US testify to the unique strength of the nation’s voluntary sector. These organizations, Gregorian explained, are called upon to provide vital resources to America’s institutions and citizens. Americans supported this remarkably vital philanthropic sector by giving almost $300 billion to charitable causes in 2011. In both scope and magnitude, American philanthropy serves as a valuable model for the world.