A $180K cash gift went unopened for 9 months — here’s how CUNY is using it now

Local News

An anonymous donation sent to CUNY in November 2020. (Joseph Tirella/CUNY)

NEW YORK — A package shipped to The City College of New York sat in the school’s mailroom for nine months “because of the circumstances of the pandemic.”

When physics professor Vinod Menon finally opened the heavy box addressed to his department, which he assumed was a gift from a former student, he got a lot more than he bargained for — bundles of $50 and $100 bills totaling $180,000.

“It was a complete shock — I know a lot of academics and I’ve never heard of anything like this,” he told The New York Times. “I didn’t know if the college accepted cash, so I didn’t know if they’d keep it.”

An anonymous letter inside the package explained the gift’s purpose: to help needy physics and math students at City College. The donor cited a ” “a long, productive, immensely rewarding” career in science, which they credited to the education they received at both Stuyvesant High School and City College.

The money was “treated like evidence” for months and stored in a safe in the public safety office, whose officials contacted federal authorities “to see if it was possible that this was proceeds from criminal activity,” City College Department of Public Safety Chief Pat Morena said.

Federal agents determined that the cash was not connected to any criminal activity, Morena said, giving CUNY’s Board of Trustees the opportunity to vote on whether or not to accept the gift.

“We have to bronze that box and put it in a display case as the most generous gift,” board member Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez said after the vote was introduced Dec. 13.

CUNY’s Board of Trustees approved usage of the funds, which will fund two full-tuition scholarships each year for more than a decade. Menon said the fellowship would require students to “give back in some way,” in homage to the spirit of the cash donation.

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