Since the 1970s, Wesleyan’s East Asian Studies Department has been largely supported through the funding of Mansfield Freeman ’16 and his family. Freeman, who passed away in 1992, gave contributions that helped to fund the East Asian Studies Major, build the Freeman Center for East Asian Studies, create the first full-time professor of Confucianism, and initiate the Freeman Asian Scholar Program, which supports scholarships for students from East and Southeast Asian countries to attend Wesleyan.
One of the ways Freeman forged his connection to East Asia was through his work in insurance. In the early 20th century, Freeman helped found the Shanghai-based American International Group, the first Western company to sell insurance to the Chinese. It was through his ties to AIG that he funded his numerous philanthropic ventures, Wesleyan included.
Now, AIG’s recent collapse appears to be harming Freeman’s last gift to Wesleyan, the 15-year-old Freeman Asian Scholar Program.
On wesleyan.edu, funding for the program is attributed to two entities: the University and the Freeman Foundation, which is run by Mansfield Freeman’s descendants and is located in Stowe, Vermont. According to 2007 public tax returns, the Freeman Foundation donated $4,245,000 to Wesleyan University. It is unclear what percentage of scholarships in 2007 were funded by that money.
What is clear is that, as of 2006, the Freeman Foundation held a vast proportion of its investments in AIG stock. When AIG stock was at $70 a share, the foundation held roughly 11 million shares at a total value of $787,301,762, according to the 2006 tax return. Currently, AIG stock stands at $1.69, which would hypothetically decrease those assets to roughly $19,000,000.
Even more striking is that the Freeman Foundation held 69% of its total $1.1 billion assets in AIG as of 2006. Its next biggest holding was in Wal-Mart stores, which comprised 1.35% of total assets. While these numbers slightly decreased in 2007, with 57% in AIG and 1.73% invested in the next-highest company (Microsoft), the discrepancy remained vast.
The scholarship’s dependence on AIG support can be seen by a quick glance at the Wesleyan website, where potential applicants are encouraged to visit local AIG offices in order to get more information about the program.
“Wesleyan alumni in the eleven countries and regions, as well as local AIG offices and U.S. Education Advising Centers, can provide further information to students interested in applying,” the site reads.
Officials at the scholar program were not available for comment.
Yet current Freeman scholars themselves have begun to see the effect of the Freeman Foundation’s almost certainly declining finances. Scholar Erwin DwiSaputra ’11 said he started feeling new financial pressures as the economy soured during his freshman year.
“Starting my year, they eliminated the Room and Board scholarship and stipends,” DwiSaputra said. “They still, however, pay for the whole tuition, which is the largest part of the cost.”
There is a strong likelihood that not as many scholarships will be offered in the coming year, given that the other portion of funds for the program come from Wesleyan finances, which have suffered due to the recent $200 million decline in the endowment.
As for now, University officials appear to be recruiting international students who can afford attending Wesleyan.
“We are hopeful that we can make progress on the goal of increasing the international representation in our student body while dealing with budget realities,” said Associate Dean of Admissions Terri Overton. “We have increased recruitment efforts overseas in general and it’s likely we will see an increased number of international students matriculating who did not apply for financial aid.”