Fathers and sons often complain they don’t speak the same language. David Packard and his son, David Woodley Packard, rarely seemed to inhabit the same century. The younger Packard has dedicated his life to the study of the past, not as in previous months or years, but as in millennia. The former classics professor is a devoted student of ancient civilizations, historical documents, classical music and, fast-forwarding a few centuries, the films of Hollywood’s Golden Age. He did once invent a computer, the Ibycus, but its purpose was to translate ancient languages for scholarly research.
The irony, of course, is that his late father, the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, was among the handful of Silicon Valley visionaries who practically invented the future. Packard pere and fils would seem to have little in common save their name, and even that isn’t an exact replica (David W. Packard is delivered from perpetual “Jr.” status by his middle initial).
What David W. Packard does share with his father is a commitment to philanthropy. During his 35 years on the board of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the son launched two of his own charitable ventures, the Stanford Theatre Foundation and the Packard Humanities Institute. The latter was transformed in July 1999 from an obscure academic venture to one of the nation’s 50 richest foundations when it received 11 percent of the Packard Foundation’s holdings, worth roughly $1.5 billion.
At the same time, Packard resigned from the foundation’s board, explaining that his priorities had diverged too widely from those of the Bay Area-based philanthropy. “It just seemed that a lot of things I had been doing didn’t fit in,” he told the San Jose Mercury News.
Fighting Over a Dead Man
But in the 18 months since PHI became a major player in the philanthropic world, it’s become evident that the apple didn’t fall so far from the tree after all. For a son who never seemed interested in following in his father’s footsteps, David W. Packard, 60, has quietly created a foundation that may better reflect his father’s values than the philanthropic colossus that bears David Packard’s name.
Certainly critics of the Packard Foundation think so. Any foundation that gives away $500 million annually, as Packard does, can hardly be accused of being one-dimensional. The foundation is probably best known for building the Lucile Salter Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Yet for years, the charity has come under fire from those concerned by the leftward tilt of its funding priorities, including grants to groups like the National Abortion Rights Action League Foundation, Earth Action Network, the Feminist Majority Foundation, and Population Action International—especially given Packard’s credentials as a conservative Republican who served as Deputy Secretary of Defense under President Nixon, and advisor to Presidents Reagan and Bush.
Consider the foundation’s support for sustainable development. “The sustainable development movement is anti-population growth, anti-technology, anti-capitalist, which means it’s really opposed to all the central themes of David Packard’s life,” says Neal B. Freeman, chairman of the Foundation Management Institute in Vienna, Virginia, which seeks to revive respect for donor intent.
“I don’t know anyone who’d say David Packard would support the sustainable development movement, but his foundation has now become probably the greatest funder of that movement in the world,” says Freeman.
The Packard Foundation states that it does not fund organizations that promote religion, but it apparently makes an exception for left-leaning groups like Catholics for a Free Choice, the California Council of Churches, and the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics, all of which received grants last year.
What the late Packard would think of all this has become the subject of lively debate. Packard reportedly wrote a letter to his four children in 1987 expressing his “general thoughts” on grant distributions. The foundation refuses to comment on the letter, and since even some of his former colleagues aren’t sure of his position on issues like abortion, it’s difficult to dispute the foundation’s stand with any authority.
Of course, the foundation’s liberal tendencies were established long before Packard’s death. The consensus is that Packard was content to let his wife Lucile, his four children, and his aides run the family non-profit while he built his computer empire.
“We know that David Packard was very concerned about fostering the intellectual basis of the free-market system, but beyond that there are a lot of unanswered questions,” says Leslie Lenkowsky, professor of philanthropic studies and public policy at Indiana University. “What is clear is that in the 1980s, when David was busy rebuilding the company, his wife Lucile took a pretty active role in leading the foundation as well as in the activities of national philanthropic groups like the Council on Foundations.”
“The basic lesson of the Packard Foundation for donors,” says Lenkowsky, “is that if they want to be as sure as possible that their foundation will be faithful to their own views, they need to put some time into shaping the foundation.”
“He himself was truly conservative,” adds one associate. “The foundation has been rather different for a long, long time. He seemed to let them do their own thing during his lifetime, and it’s continued in that vein.”
Packard also sat on the boards of two conservative think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution, both of which shared his interests in national security, defense, foreign policy, and the economy. By all accounts, he was an enthusiastic patron of both, donating his time, talents, and fortune to their success. When AEI hit hard financial times in the early 1980s, “he helped very significantly with his finances and his advice,” recalls AEI President Christopher DeMuth.
“He bailed us out,” says DeMuth. “He was a hands-on trustee, a great man.”
Since Packard’s death in 1996, however, his foundation hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with support. DeMuth recalls that the two did collaborate on a conference on child welfare a few years ago. Afterward, “I sent them a request for funding on some project, and they sent back a polite letter telling us ‘no’,” he says. “They haven’t funded us since his death.”
Still, DeMuth harbors no grudge. “I, of course, think all foundations should put all their money into AEI, but these are his children, his grandchildren making these decisions and I’m sure they’re trying to follow his wishes,” he says.
The Hoover Institution, located at Mr. Packard’s beloved Stanford University, has a happier tale. After Mr. Packard’s death, the foundation agreed to fund the institution for three years at $200,000 per year.
“They acknowledged that Hoover was important to David over his life and they wanted to continue to honor his memory,” says Hoover director John Raisian. “And I was delighted, because that was really David’s thing, not the foundation’s thing.”
Packard’s New Baby
Hoover has solidified its ties with the Packard family in another way. The torch carried by David Packard at Hoover has been recently picked up by his son.
After his father’s death, David Woodley Packard joined the Hoover board of overseers, and his Packard Humanities Institute is collaborating with Hoover on expanding its Russian and Eastern European archives, specifically its collections in the areas of Islamic fundamentalism and emerging democracies in the Soviet Union. The nonprofit is also funding research by Hoover fellows on at least two education projects.
Founded in 1987, PHI has long emphasized funding for academic pursuits, specifically the creation of “tools for basic research in the humanities” and promotion of “a wider interest in the history, literature and music of the past,” according to a PHI statement. The institute is clearly Packard’s baby: Virtually every project reflects his status as a classics scholar and a student of archeology, music, history, and film.
Last year’s windfall from the Packard Foundation has enabled PHI to expand ongoing projects and take on new ventures. In January, the institute opened a second office, on the outskirts of Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to coordinate two major academic endeavors: the Islamic Classical Library, which will offer English translations of major Islamic texts, and the collected works of C. P. E. Bach, which will be published in traditional and electronic formats.
Since his father’s death, however, Packard has begun to cast his net beyond the scope of academia and into the realm of public policy. For three years, the institute has funded the Reading Lions Project in Sacramento, which advocates the phonics approach to reading over the whole-language method preferred by some educators. The program provides a network of “reading coaches” to help train teachers in phonics instruction in 27 Northern California school districts.
Bill Evers, a Hoover research fellow and friend of Packard’s, says education may be where the father and son have most closely aligned. He notes that early in his career, the father served on the Palo Alto school board.
“My opinion is that the Packard Humanities Institute is really closer to the kind of solid educational views that the father supported,” says Evers. “He’s in sync with his late father on pushing for solid educational programs, whereas I think the Packard Foundation has had a tendency to go with what’s fashionable, what’s trendy, what’s recommended by the educational establishment.”
Packard’s interest in phonics cropped up unexpectedly in the 1998 California superintendent of schools race. A registered independent who had previously made just one political contribution, he gave a last-minute donation of $500,000 to Republican candidate Gloria Matta Tuchman. He later said the reason was her support for phonics instruction.
“If I had to do it over again, I’d get involved earlier,” Packard told the Mercury News after the election, which Tuchman lost.
In another move likely to earn Packard the enmity of the teachers’ unions, PHI is exploring the efficacy of voucher programs. Picking up an initiative he began at the Packard Foundation, PHI is funding studies of two voucher experiments in New York City and San Antonio. Both are being conducted by Harvard University’s Paul Peterson, who’s also a senior fellow at Hoover and a member of Hoover’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education.
Peterson’s research is still in progress, but in a recent essay on the Hoover Web site he argues that private-school vouchers have significantly improved the test scores of African-American students.
The institute is also funding the new Center for Research on Educational Outcomes, led by University of Rochester economist Eric Hanushek, a distinguished visiting fellow at Hoover and another member of the Koret Task Force. The center’s objective is to hold an economist’s unblinking eye to education policy and to evaluate programs on the basis of empirical evidence.
Early indications are that Hanushek isn’t afraid of challenging the education orthodoxy. In a recent Hoover essay, he concludes that “there is virtually no relationship between teacher salaries and student achievement.” He has also argued that student achievement has less to do with class size than with teacher quality.
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
What’s more, Packard is carving out a funding priority in the area of foreign policy, one of his father’s passions. The institute is supporting emerging democracies in the Balkans and Eastern Europe through support for private monitoring groups, including the Balkan Institute, the Alliance to Defend Bosnia-Herzegovina and the British Helsinki Group. Packard is also considering a joint grant program with the Margaret Thatcher Foundation to help the nations of the former Soviet Union “make a successful transition to Western values and institutions.”
While the father shared his son’s enthusiasm for these ventures, it’s doubtful that today’s Packard Foundation would touch them.
“There is a gap there,” says Evers. “I think the staff has really gone slightly in the wrong way on this and that’s why the two groups separated. Rather than hamstring themselves, they decided to go different ways.”
Packard’s split from the foundation, coupled with his institute’s move into the conservative public-policy arena, has led to speculation that the move was fueled by family strife. If so, the Packard family has done an admirable job of keeping it all under wraps. PHI continues to rent space from the foundation in Los Altos, California. One of Packard’s three sisters, Susan Packard Orr, sits on the PHI board while also chairing the foundation.
All this suggests that the conflict was more professional than personal. “I’ve seen them [the sisters] at parties at his house. I’ve seen them at his movie theater, and they’ve been there since the division, so I don’t think there’s any [family strife],” says Evers.
“There were some differences between David and the other relatives on the board. They agreed to let him do his own thing and he agreed to let them do theirs,” says Lenkowsky. “I have no reason to think it was hostile, although clearly he wanted to go in some different directions.”
It’s doubtful Packard himself will soon shed any light on the subject. The institute keeps a deliberately low profile, to the extent that’s possible for a billion-dollar foundation. In an apparent attempt to ward off unwelcome grant-seekers, its bare-bones Web site lists only its name, address, and phone number, along with a terse statement warning that the institute does not accept unsolicited proposals. Packard himself declined to be interviewed for this article.
The institute has recently changed its status from a strictly operating foundation to one that also makes grants, although that fact hasn’t been broadly advertised. There was also little fanfare surrounding the opening of the Cambridge office. “There hasn’t been a lot of publicity,” says Ruth Libby, the office administrator. “He [Packard] is much more interested in the work itself and getting the work done than getting the word out.”
Even so, the historian in David W. Packard can probably appreciate that his institute is now making a little history of its own. “Those of us in the philanthropic movement think it’s a very great thing. It’s the first recorded instance of a foundation moving from left to right,” says Freeman. “It’s a very hopeful development that Packard funds are now being used for something Packard Sr. would have approved of.”
Valerie Richardson is a contributing editor to Philanthropy.