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Published: Friday, 4/24/2009

$10M mystery: Michigan State gets latest gift in spree


EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State University may be the latest U.S. college or university to receive a large gift from a mysterious donor.

The university announced yesterday that it had been given an anonymous $10 million.

The mystery of who is behind the gifts is the question on everyone's lips in philanthropy.

What's so unusual is that not even the colleges themselves know the answer. But the parlor game is afoot, with only one real clue: So far, all the colleges are led by women.

Coincidence? Unlikely. With about 23 percent of U.S. college presidents women, the odds of a dozen randomly selected institutions all having female leaders are 1 in 50 million.

Melissa Berman, president and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors in New York, thinks the donor might be "a woman who maybe grew up in an era in which the opportunity to go to college was not taken for granted by women, and who feels that women in leadership positions are important motivators for women to be able to achieve their potential."

No schools in Ohio are on the list. Kalamazoo (Mich.) College received $1 million.

The gifts, ranging from

$1 million to perhaps

$10 million - up to $68.5 million so far - have arrived over the past seven weeks in similarly secretive fashion at colleges around the country. All were contacted by a law firm or other intermediary and given a highly unusual condition: College officials had to promise - in writing, in some cases - not to try to find out the donor's identity.

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