An $180,000 anonymous cash donation to City College is found



Adham Elshaabiny, Marketing Director

After more than a year and a half of remote learning, Vinod Menon, a physics professor at City College of New York, returned to teaching in-person and found a surprise gift waiting for him at his office.

As Menon sorted through his pile of mail, he found the heavy box addressed to the chairman of the physics department. At first, he thought it was a thank you gift. As he opened the box, he was surprised to find it full of cash, totaling $180,000.

The box came with an unsigned letter dated Nov. 10, 2020, explaining that the cash is intended to be used for supporting “deserving” students double majoring in physics and mathematics and in need of financial support to continue their education.

“It was a complete shock — I know a lot of academics and I’ve never heard of anything like this,” Menon told The New York Times.

While people might wonder why someone would do this, the answer was simple to the donor.

“Assuming that you are a bit curious to why I am doing this the reason is straightforward: the excellent educational opportunity available to me – which I took full advantage of at CCNY (and Stuyvesant High School),” the donor wrote.

He or she noted that because of their education at CCNY, they had “a long, productive, immensely rewarding,” scientific career.

The letter itself felt like a badge of honor to Menon and the physics department at City College, a department that produced three Nobel laureates in physics.

While teaching remotely, Menon had been conducting research at the campus lab but never checked his office mail.

“Here’s a holiday story you’d only find in the movies: A box full of $180K in cash was sent to the @CityCollegeNY physics department,” CUNY tweeted on Dec. 21, 2021. “An enclosed note from the mysterious donor asked the school to use the cash to fund scholarships for needy students.”

Menon was not sure if the college accepted cash as donations, but to him this had a deeper meaning. He said it’s more about “a testament to what the physics department has been providing all these years.”

The money was stored in a safe in the public safety office, whose officials then contacted federal authorities to ensure it didn’t come via criminal activity, according to Chief Pat Morena, head of the Department of Public Safety at City College.

The federal search concluded that the money was withdrawn from several banks in Maryland in recent years and that it is not connected to any criminal activity. The gift was formally accepted on Dec. 13, 2021 during CUNY’s Board of Trustees meeting.

The donation will go toward funding two full tuition scholarships each year for over a decade.

“An anonymous gift of $180,000 in cash to @CityCollegeNY might be a first, but I’m so #CUNYProud that it’s yet another example of how passionate our alumni are,” CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez tweeted on Dec. 21, 2021.

He added a message to the donor.

“Whoever you are: Thanks for providing fellowships for future students for years to come!” he said in the tweet.