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Duty-Free King Quietly Gives Away $8 Billion

Billionaire Chuck Feeney, shown in photo from medalofphilanthropy.org, has given away more than $8 billion over the past 38 years.
Billionaire Chuck Feeney, shown in photo from medalofphilanthropy.org, has given away more than $8 billion over the past 38 years.

Among the celebrity philanthropists who donate extreme amounts of money to education and lifting others, Chuck Feeney’s name is not as well-known as Bloomberg, Gates or Buffett.

Those billionaires — Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett — are highly recognizable names of great wealth, and their efforts are well-known.

But Feeney, 89, has donated more than $8 billion in the past 38 years more quietly, espousing the slogan “Giving While Living” through his Atlantic Philanthropies (AP) organization, “to advance opportunity and promote equity and dignity.”

His intent has been so successful that he has depleted the wealth he accumulated in his lifetime, and his foundation closes this year.

Feeney was born and raised in an Irish-concentrated neighborhood in Elizabeth, N.J., a working class town that personifies industrialized, smokestack New Jersey. He served as a radio operator in Japan during the Korean War, and then went on to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., through the GI Bill, a government program that rewards military personnel for their service by paying for their education.

Feeney was the first person in his family to attend college. After graduating in 1956, Feeny and classmate Robert Miller started a luxury retail shopping business — Duty Free Shoppers — that populates airports around the world with high-end goods.

Men look at cosmetic products in a Duty Free store at the Fraport airport in Frankfurt, Germany, Nov. 14, 2012.
Men look at cosmetic products in a Duty Free store at the Fraport airport in Frankfurt, Germany, Nov. 14, 2012.

Numerous educational programs have benefited from Atlantic Philanthropies, but none more than Cornell, where Feeney graduated from its vaunted hotel management program. Cornell has received $1 billion from Feeney’s generosity.

“Physical markers of his giving are sprinkled around all corners of Cornell’s campus, funding everything from student scholarships to North and West Campus living facilities, hospitality research support, the Martin Y. Tang Welcome Center and athletics programs,” the university reported to the Cornell Daily Sun.

Feeney’s giving was “transformative,” said Cornell President Martha Pollack, and “deserves the highest recognition we can give,” the Cornell Daily Sun reported.

Feeney has been giving internationally, too.

“While his generosity towards Ireland and Cornell University is well-known, his relationship with the people of Vietnam has flown relatively under the radar,” blogged John W. Conroy in 2017.

In Vietnam, Feeney’s contributions rebuilt medical facilities, expanded libraries and increased educational opportunities.

“Viet Nam was the right place at the right time with the right people,” wrote Lien Hoang in a book for Atlantic Philanthropies. “The energy and commitment to change, the unfair legacy of brutal conflict, and the possibilities to improve responses to fundamental human needs in health and education were all evident.”

Feeney “has been the savior of our people and we will never forget that,” Conroy quoted Dr. Tran Ngoc Thanh, Da Nang Hospital director.

In Cuba, AP awarded $5.8 million in November to Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC), “a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, California that has worked to promote US-Cuba health collaboration and highlight Cuba’s public health contributions to global health equity and universal health,” according to its website.

That brings AP’s total contribution to MEDICC to $16.7 million since 2002.

Feeney is not alone, just less public, about his philanthropy.

Last week, MacKenzie Scott, former wife of world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, donated $4.2 billion to groups helping the vulnerable, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scott last year signed a "giving pledge" to donate the bulk of her wealth to charity. In a round of donations early this year, Scott gave nearly $1.7 billion to groups devoted to race, gender and economic equality, as well as other social causes.

She is among other donors who have signed the pledge, saying they intend to donate much of their wealth in their lifetimes. Issues include “poverty alleviation, refugee aid, disaster relief, global health, education, women and girls’ empowerment, medical research, criminal justice reform, environmental sustainability, and arts and culture,” according to the pledge website.

Included are Canadian Marcel Arsenault whose foundation promotes good governance to prevent war; Sudanese-British Mo Ibrahim who is dedicated to good governance and leadership in Africa; Emirati billionaire Mohammed Bin Musallam Bin Ham Al-Ameri who is dedicated to helping the underprivileged; Chinese investment banker Dong Fangjun who helps drop-out students, among others, from impoverished families; entrepreneur You Zhonghui, the first Chinese woman to sign the pledge; Emiratis Badr Jafar and Razan al Mubarak, who promote good governance and transparency in the Gulf Region; Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Indian entrepreneur and owner of biotech company Biocon Limited; and others.

See all News Updates of the Day

Senator draws attention to universities that haven’t returned remains

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, speaks with reporters as he walks to a vote on Capitol Hill, Sept. 6, 2023 in Washington.
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, speaks with reporters as he walks to a vote on Capitol Hill, Sept. 6, 2023 in Washington.

More than 70 U.S. universities continue to hold human remains taken from Native American burial sites, although those remains were supposed to be returned 30 years ago.

Jennifer Bendery writes in Huffington Post that one senator has been using his position in an attempt to shame universities into returning remains and artifacts. (April 2024)

COVID forced one international student to go hungry

FILE - Masked students walk to the COVID-19 vaccination site at the Rose E. McCoy Auditorium on the Jackson State University campus in Jackson, Miss., July 27, 2021.
FILE - Masked students walk to the COVID-19 vaccination site at the Rose E. McCoy Auditorium on the Jackson State University campus in Jackson, Miss., July 27, 2021.

When Samantha (not her real name) enrolled in community college in the U.S., her family at home in South Africa scrimped and saved to support her.

But the COVID-19 pandemic hurt the family’s finances, and at one point Samantha had four on-campus jobs just to make ends meet. Many in the U.S. believe international students are wealthy sources of funding for universities, but stories like Samantha’s suggest otherwise.

Andrea Gutierrez reports for The World. (March 2024)

Tips for paying for a STEM degree as an international student

FILE - FILE - A visitor to the 21st China Beijing International High-tech Expo looks at a computer chip through the microscope displayed by the Tsinghua Unigroup project in Beijing, on May 17, 2018.
FILE - FILE - A visitor to the 21st China Beijing International High-tech Expo looks at a computer chip through the microscope displayed by the Tsinghua Unigroup project in Beijing, on May 17, 2018.

For US News & World Report, Melanie Lockert describes how to calculate the cost of a STEM degree, and where to find funding. (March 2024)

NAIA all but bans its transgender college athletes from women's sports

FILE - NAIA women’s basketball players gather after a game in St. Louis, Feb. 22, 2024. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, said Monday that transgender athletes would be all but banned from women's sports.
FILE - NAIA women’s basketball players gather after a game in St. Louis, Feb. 22, 2024. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, said Monday that transgender athletes would be all but banned from women's sports.

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, announced a policy Monday that all but bans transgender athletes from competing in women's sports.

The NAIA's Council of Presidents approved the policy in a 20-0 vote. The NAIA, which oversees some 83,000 athletes at schools across the country, is believed to be the first college sports organization to take such a step.

According to the transgender participation policy, all athletes may participate in NAIA-sponsored male sports but only athletes whose biological sex assigned at birth is female and have not begun hormone therapy will be allowed to participate in women's sports.

A student who has begun hormone therapy may participate in activities such as workouts, practices and team activities, but not in interscholastic competition.

"With the exception of competitive cheer and competitive dance, the NAIA created separate categories for male and female participants," the NAIA said. "Each NAIA sport includes some combination of strength, speed and stamina, providing competitive advantages for male student-athletes. As a result, the NAIA policy for transgender student-athletes applies to all sports except for competitive cheer and competitive dance, which are open to all students."

There is no known number of transgender athletes at the high school and college levels, though it is believed to be small. The topic has become a hot-button issue for those for and against transgender athletes competing on girls' and women's sports teams.

At least 24 states have laws barring transgender women and girls from competing in certain women's or girls sports competitions. Last month, more than a dozen current and former college athletes filed a federal lawsuit against the NCAA, accusing the sports governing body for more than 500,000 athletes of violating their rights by allowing transgender women to compete in women's sports.

The Biden administration originally planned to release a new federal Title IX rule — the law forbids discrimination based on sex in education — addressing both campus sexual assault and transgender athletes. But earlier this year, the department decided to split them into separate rules, and the athletics rule now remains in limbo even as the sexual assault policy moves forward.

Hours after the NAIA announcement, the NCAA released a statement: "College sports are the premier stage for women's sports in America and the NCAA will continue to promote Title IX, make unprecedented investments in women's sports and ensure fair competition for all student-athletes in all NCAA championships."

The NCAA has had a policy for transgender athlete participation in place since 2010, which called for one year of testosterone suppression treatment and documented testosterone levels submitted before championship competitions. In 2022, the NCAA revised its policies on transgender athlete participation in an attempt to align with national sport governing bodies, following the lead of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

The three-phase implementation of the policy included a continuation of the 2010 policy, requiring transgender women to be on hormone replacement therapy for at least one year, plus the submission of a hormone-level test before the start of both the regular season and championship events.

The third phase adds national and international sport governing body standards to the NCAA's policy and is scheduled to be implemented for the 2024-25 school year on August 1.

There are some 15.3 million public high school students in the United States and a 2019 study by the CDC estimated 1.8% of them — about 275,000 — are transgender. The number of athletes within that group is much smaller; a 2017 survey by Human Rights Campaign suggested fewer than 15% of all transgender boys and transgender girls play sports.

The number of NAIA transgender athletes would be far smaller.

Humanities degrees are tougher sell for international students 

FILE - People walk near the campus center at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., Dec. 9, 2013.
FILE - People walk near the campus center at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., Dec. 9, 2013.

That’s the argument of one Princeton undergraduate from South Korea.

OPT, the government program that allows college students to work in the US for a short time after graduation without securing a work visa, is biased toward STEM degree holders.

As a result, many international students forego humanities, or choose tech or consulting jobs when their passions lie elsewhere.

Read Siyeon Lee’s argument in the Princetonian. (March 2024)

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