Wall Street titans help fuel Ivy League grant revolution

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Apollo CEO Marc Rowan on UPenn op-ed: We, at Penn, are the foundation of 'favorite' speech

Billionaire Marc Rowan has spoken out to what one finance executive called “half of Wall Street” about halting grants to some of the nation’s most prestigious universities, to complain about schools’ responses to Israel-Hamas war.

The CEO of private equity giant Apollo Global Management is among a growing group of Wall Street executives talking privately with other financiers about using their influence as major donors to pressure schools to make leadership changes. to do

Rowan participated in an Oct. 23 Zoom call with dozens of wealthy donors to other Ivy League schools, including Yale University and Harvard University, according to those familiar with the call. One of the things they talked about was stopping the financial support for the schools, these people explained.

At least 400 Penn alumni and donors attended a recent call organized by former class presidents, and several speakers expressed frustration with the university’s current leadership, according to a person on did he know Rowan was one of the last speakers on the call, where he raised his own questions about the school, this person explained.

In addition to the calls with donors and alumni, Rowan and other finance officials who are critical of the universities have been communicating via text messages about their concerns with the schools. One of the people on these text message chains with Rowan is Bill Ackman, CEO of hedge fund Pershing Square, according to a person briefed on the matter.

The individuals were given anonymity to talk freely about private conversations.

Rowan and Ackman are not alone. Investors David Magerman and Leon Cooperman have also said they plan to stop donating to their favorite universities to protest the schools’ handling of the war.

Marc Rowan, chief executive of Apollo Global Management LLC, in New York, on Monday, April 24, 2023.

Victor J. Blue | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A spokesman for Ackman said the Pershing Square CEO declined to comment. Rowan did not return requests for comment. A spokesman for Apollo did not respond, either.

Since co-founding Apollo Global more than 30 years ago, Rowan has built relationships with business and political leaders, making him a key influential voice encouraging wealthy donors to give back to schools that rate depends on these grants to operate.

Rowan’s 2018 gift of $50 million to Penn’s Wharton School was considered the largest donation the business school has ever received. Rowan currently chairs Wharton’s board of advisors.

“The funders are an integral part of the governance structure, and if they see a failure in governance, they will demand governance accountability, if not a change in mandate,” Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, associate dean at Yale School of Management, CNBC reported.Sonnenfeld currently maintains a list of companies that have publicly criticized Hamas attacks on Israel.

Already, there are signs that Rowan’s efforts are having an impact.

On Thursday, longtime investor Steve Eisman said he had asked Penn to remove his family’s name from a scholarship after hearing Rowan criticize the school in an Oct. 12 interview on CNBC.

“Your interview with Marc Rowan woke me up a little bit,” “The Big Short” investor told CNBC’s Squawk Box.

“I don’t want my family’s name to ever be associated with the University of Pennsylvania,” Eisman told officials at his alma mater.

In particular, Rowan says he is troubled by Penn’s response to an event held on campus in September, two weeks before Hamas launched a deadly attack on Israel that killed at least 1,400 people.

The Palestine Writes Literary Festival featured several speakers who had made antisemitic comments in the past.

But it’s not the festival itself that Rowan says he’s angry about. The truth is that Penn did not publicly criticize the festival, including in the days after the Hamas attacks.

“That criticism shouldn’t be so harsh. Unfortunately, if you don’t have moral courage, it’s difficult,” Rowan told CNBC October 12, during the interview watched by Eisman. Rowan has asked fellow Penn donors and alumni to close their checkbooks until the university’s president, Elizabeth Magill, and the institution’s chairman, Scott Bok, both retire.

Magill and Bok have not retired. Instead, Penn’s president has announced a university-wide plan to combat antisemitism. A key part of this is a new task force on antisemitism, which will hold its first meetings later this month. Penn leaders also condemned Hamas attacks on Israel days after Rowan spoke.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., arrives for a news conference after the Senate luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023.

Tom Williams | Call CQ-Roll, Inc. | Getty Images

Rowan’s calls to end donations to Penn have even reached Washington, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., suggested Rowan not name him Tuesday, during a speech on the floor of the Senate.

“At Penn, one alumnus’ call to boycott the school has spread like wildfire, leading to a crisis that could put a billion-dollar hole in the University’s books,” McConnell said.

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