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For Columbia and a Powerful Donor, Months of Talks and Millions at Risk

On Jan. 19, Angelica Berrie sent an email to Nemat Shafik, the president of Columbia University. Ms. Berrie reported that the Russell Berrie Foundation, named for her late husband, had scheduled three grant payments to Columbia.

But after months of campus protests around the Israel-Hamas war, Ms. Berrie also delivered a warning.

As the foundation prepared to transfer almost $613,000, Ms. Berrie told Dr. Shafik that future giving would partly hinge on “evidence that you and leaders across the university are taking appropriate steps to create a tolerant and secure environment for Jewish members of the Columbia community.”

Months passed, and the foundation, which has donated about $86 million to Columbia over the years, did not like what it saw. Frustrated and flummoxed by the sustained tumult at Columbia, the foundation suspended its giving to the university late last month.

Columbia has spent months under siege, bombarded by public demands from protesters, faculty members, alumni, members of Congress and religious groups since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 that precipitated the war. But the foundation’s admonition, included in correspondence that it shared with The New York Times, illustrates the pressures that Columbia administrators have also had to confront in private with donors, with longstanding relationships and enormous sums at stake.

The Berrie Foundation’s pause threatens to cost Columbia tens of millions of dollars over the coming years. And it represents a sobering turnabout for a foundation so prolific at Columbia that it underwrote both the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion and the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center.

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