Harvard would survive and even thrive without donations like Ballmer's, but I'm not sure about the tier of higher education that serves the vast majority of college students.
I'm pleased that Ballmer is giving money to support more research, but I don't have a problem with asking what society is getting in return for that massive tax break and colossal infusion of public funding.
The answer, to me, is: quite a lot. Harvard's contributions to research are remarkable, and the world is better for it. But I think it's reasonable to question such a favored tax status and high level of public funding for a university that keeps its undergraduate enrollment so low (especially for low income students).
A few Ivy Schools for comparison.
USM probably won't attract top faculty at the same rate as Harvard and thus won't advance the field as much, at least until it gains a reputation in the research world. Of course without funding that's even less possible, which is a crappy vicious cycle, so there's that.
Once again, the top comment on a HN post is critical. No matter what it is; even donating huge sums of money to universities.
I am also more sympathetic to the people who are critical. We are talking about $50 million more for a university that has a massive tax exempt endowment, that enrolls relatively few undergraduates, and has come under fire recently (along with all elite colleges) for having a relatively low percentage of low income students.
I think it's ok to point this out, though I would also be careful to emphasize that the donation is a good thing (and that research budgets can be different from general support for undergraduates). Also, my understanding is that Microsoft has been very generous with UW.
I think it's possible to donate to a wide variety of causes - a similar argument cropped up on some of the ESA discussions here yesterday, with some people asking why we should bother spending money in space when there's a lot of pressing problems on earth. Investing in education could result in discoveries being made that could benefit millions of people. We are probably in agreement about buying a basketball team being a waste of money though!
I'm guessing there are even more?
A basketball team is an asset. It's not like he spent the money on blow. It's an investment, just like anything else (although it happens to be one he's passionate about).
It should be noted that Ballmer did attend Harvard so it isn't just some random donation out of the blue.
I've learned over the years that, when a bio says "So-and-so attended Harvard", it means So-and-so went there but didn't finish. Not that I object! Harvard dropouts like Gates, Zuck, and Matt Damon often do exceptionally well—they typically leave because they have an opportunity that's even better than attending Harvard.
That said, it's his money. He can spend as he sees fit and unless he sees clubbing baby seals or something equally morally reprehensible as his aim, who are we to take aim?
I am ready and willing to "take aim" and go even farther to stop someone, if that someone is behaving sufficiently immorally. My threshold for acceptable and unacceptable generally falls on the issue of whether an individual is harming another living thing. Killing to eat is acceptable. Clubbing baby seals because you're a sadistic billionaire is not acceptable.
Here's another take on U.S. taxation: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/tax-reform/news/2011...
But I can't judge him. He isn't trying to be like Bill Gates and that's fine.
Oddly enough, the current building the Harvard CS department is based in (Maxwell Dworkin) was itself funded by Ballmer as part of a previous gift with Bill Gates (Maxwell and Dworkin being their mothers' maiden names).
It's definitely in an upward swing, likely because "these fancy computer things" are the key to making serious money and influence these days and are only going to be more so, it's nice to see some good work coming out of their program and better funding of the program is going to be very helpful towards equalizing the prestige of Harvard C.S. with Harvard Law, etc.