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As Jeff Bezos Is Grilled by Congress, His Ex-Wife, MacKenzie Scott, Just Donated $40 Million to Howard U

It's the largest gift in the university’s 153-year history.

Scott in DC with Bezos in 2016. Photograph by Daniel Swartz.

On the day of Jeff Bezos’s long-awaited congressional grilling, his ex-wife is making news in the nation’s capital.

Philanthropist and novelist MacKenzie Scott, who in July 2019 got divorced from the Amazon founder after 25 years of marriage, is making a $40 million donation to DC’s Howard University—the largest individual gift in the historically Black university’s 153 years.

“I would like to thank Ms. Mackenzie Scott for her investment into Howard University,” the university’s president, Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, said in a statement Tuesday. “We plan to immediately put this eight-figure gift to good use to support components of our 5-year strategic plan to help students graduate on time, retain our talented faculty, enhance our campus infrastructure and support academic innovation and entrepreneurship.”

As part of the couple’s divorce settlement, according to CNN, Scott received roughly 25 percent of Bezos’s shares in Amazon, providing her with a 4 percent stake in the e-commerce giant. Scott has since pledged to give away the bulk of her fortune, which is now estimated to be more than $60 billion.

Scott has also been a student of the late novelist Toni Morrison, a Howard University alumna.

In its press release, Howard offered details about how the $40 million would be spent:

“Howard University will allocate the gift to four areas of need, including on-going campus infrastructure improvement projects, such as essential renovations to the steam plant system and updates to improve technology. Howard will implement a new faculty development plan to provide additional educational development opportunities for faculty to increase rigor and quality of instruction, and to promote professional advancement and specialized skills training. Howard will also develop a program focused on social innovation and entrepreneurship to further enhance Howard’s outreach to instill the importance of financial wellness in our campus community.

“Lastly, the Scott gift will help underwrite a portion of one of Howard’s signature retention programs, the Graduation & Retention Access to Continued Excellence (GRACE) Grant. This need-based program provides a 100 percent match for students who receive the maximum Federal Pell Grant and provides additional funding to students with an expected family contribution of zero (EFC $0). Created in 2014, the GRACE Grant is designed to help remove the financial barriers to academic success and encourage on-time graduation for students who have successfully completed their freshman year. During this time, EFC $0 GRACE recipients saw an average 18 percent increase in retention as compared to non-GRACE students. Additionally, the average 4-year graduation rate for EFC $0 GRACE recipients is 79%, which is 33 points higher than those who did not receive GRACE funds in the same category.”

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Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.