on an interview with Pamela Gerloff
scientific world, you make calculations to determine the probable
results of an experiment; however, when you make a donation
to a person or organization, there is no way to calculate
what's going to happen-because you're dealing with human beings,
with all of their individual differences. When I fund a scholarship,
I make the assumption that the quality of the recipient's
life will be improved by education. However, as far as I know,
there is no objective way to measure that. You could measure
it by the accumulation of money, I suppose, but I think that's
a poor index of the quality of life.
When I funded a full graduate fellowship
in engineering at Harvard, I wrote a letter to the dean
indicating my desires for how the money should be spent.
For example, I preferred that the recipient be a declared
candidate for a doctorate, an electrical engineering student,
and a person of Japanese lineage (if not Japanese, then
Asian; if not that, then anything would do). I gave the
dean a list of ten desires-not rules, but preferences. The
last item on the list said that because I recognized that
conditions might change, the dean could use the funds for
anything he or she felt was important, while staying within
the spirit of the gift.
I did that because when I was a student
at the Graduate School of Engineering at Harvard, a big
dispute arose over the Gordon McKay legacy. McKay had left
a lot of money to Harvard, to be used to advance the design
of shoe machinery. Of course, by the time I got there, everybody
had figured out how to design shoe machinery! Harvard went
to court and said that McKay must not have meant to constrain
the use of money in that way. Harvard won the lawsuit.
The reason I fund fellowships is to improve
the capability and the life of a student and the ability
of that person to make a contribution to society, thereby
enhancing not only the student's life but society as well.
As a scientist, I might say, "Gee, you ought to be able
to measure that," and it's true that psychologists can measure
a lot of different things. But I always remember something
that happened years ago, when I was working at MIT's Lincoln
Laboratory. There was to be an evaluation of all the staff
members and I tried to figure out what everyone's raise
ought to be. I came up with an elaborate scheme and took
it to my boss. I thought I had it all figured out. He looked
at it and said, "That's pretty good, but you're trying to
turn an art into a science."
To me, giving is the same. Instead of trying
to turn it into a science, we may as well accept that it's
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