Founded in 1970 and long considered an authority on the charitable giving of the very rich, the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College is preparing to close as early as this summer, the Boston Globe reports.
Director Paul Schervish and Senior Associate Director John Havens, who have led the multidisciplinary research center for the past three decades, are planning to retire, and neither is interested in continuing to do the fundraising necessary to keep the center going. They also told the Globe it would be difficult to replicate the academic partnership created by their distinctive blend of expertise — Schervish, a former Jesuit priest, has a background in literature, sociology, and theology, while Havens' training is in economics, mathematics, and physics. So, with the consent of Boston College administrators, the two have decided to close the center's doors once they wrap up their current projects.
Schervish, who is on sabbatical through June, has been appointed a visiting research fellow at Duke University; he will give up his professorship at Boston College at the end of the year. "I did not want it to become something different" under new leadership, he told the Globe, referring to the center's work, which includes rigorous analysis of charitable giving trends as well as research on what Schervish calls "the softer side" of philanthropy, including the ethical dimensions of wealth and privilege.
In 2006, the center published a paper (4 pages, PDF) challenging long-held beliefs that the main reason wealthy people leave money to charity is to avoid estate taxes and that charitable bequests would plummet if estate taxes were eliminated. On the contrary, Schervish and Havens found, the wealthiest Americans, once they've achieved financial security, tend to give to charity for more altruistic reasons. "We always focused on spiritual context," said Schervish, "and our statistical work was always the foundation for a moral question: How can you use your wealth for deeper purposes when you no longer need to achieve a higher standard of living?"
"For many years, Paul Schervish has brought valuable empirical data to public discussions about philanthropy in America," said Caitrin Nicol Keiper, editor of Philanthropy magazine, "[and he] has sharply questioned the stereotypes about how, when, and why people give."