Commentary: Should Dr. Dre Have Donated to an HBCU Instead?

The hip-hop legend donated $35 million to USC. Was this a missed opportunity to support Black colleges?

Posted: 05/22/2013 11:36 AM EDT

Dr. Dre and his partner in his Beats by Dre headphones empire, Jimmy Iovine, donated $70 million — $35 million each — to the University of Southern California in order to construct a new academy that will blend arts instruction with business training.

“Academy students will have the freedom to move easily from classroom to lab, from studio to workshop individually or in groups, and blow past any academic or structural barriers to spontaneous creativity,” USC dean of fine arts Erica Muhl said of the new academy in a statement.

Naturally, Dre and Iovine themselves are hugely excited at their gifts’ potential to change lives. “I feel like this is the biggest, most exciting, and probably the most important thing that I’ve done in my career,” Dre told the LA Times.

But not everyone is so elated at the Dre-Iovine largesse. Writing also for the LA Times, Walter M. Kimbrough, president of the Black liberal arts college Dillard University, which is based in New Orleans, questioned in an op-ed Tuesday whether Dre’s money would have been better spent at a Black institution.

“Make no mistake: This donation is historic. It appears to be the largest gift by a black man to any college or university, comparable to the gift Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille, gave to Spelman College in 1988,” wrote Kimbrough. But he later added, “But as the president of a black college, it pains me as well. I can't help but wish that Dre's wealth, generated as it was by his largely black hip-hop fans, was coming back to support that community.”

Kimbrough goes on to point that USC is already a tremendously wealthy school, and that it has very few African-American males on its campus, despite the fact that 56 percent of its football and basketball teams are composed of Black men. “And given USC's $45,602 tuition next year, I'm confident Dre could have sponsored multiple full-ride scholarships to private black colleges for the cost of one at USC,” writes Kimbrough.

To be sure, many of Kimbrough’s protestations are salient: Lots of HBCUs are in dire financial straits, and USC doesn’t have a lot of African-American students, particularly not ones who don’t play sports. That being said, I’m not sure if it’s Dre’s responsibility to try to right those wrongs every time he does a good deed, nor do those things significantly detract from the power of his financial gift.

Though USC doesn’t have a lot of Black students, more than 4,100 of its 18,000 undergrads come from low-income backgrounds, and two-thirds of USC students get some form of financial aid.

Indeed, USC may not be the most black-friendly school in America, but that doesn’t mean it’s not doing important work or providing opportunities for achievement to minority young people. At the end of his piece, Kimbrough seems to come to terms with that fact, writing that it also makes sense for Dre to donate in Los Angeles, where he’s lived for so many years.

But Kimbrough’s last point is one I’d like the USC administration to keep in mind: “I do hope it will recruit and enroll a diverse class of students and not become some enclave for the already privileged student body there.”

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Simon Burchell/Getty Images)

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