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WHY ARTS AND SCIENCES?

At a time when humanities professors worry about a waning interest in the liberal arts, Michael Leven, A59, A88P, is helping to keep that educational philosophy alive. Leven, the seventy-six-year-old president and chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, has pledged $550,000 to create the Michael and Andrea Leven Scholars at Tufts. The gift, made in honor of his fifty-fifth reunion, will fund eleven first-generation college students per year—as long as they choose a major in the School of Arts and Sciences and participate in an extracurricular activity.

Why Arts and Sciences? “A liberal arts education is the foundation for the human enterprise,” says Leven. “Undergraduate school is the only place where you have a chance to broaden your human education—and without that, you’re disadvantaged.”

Leven grew up in modest circumstances in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood. His father was a traveling salesman and his mother a secretary. He graduated from Boston Latin School, where a demanding classical curriculum prepared him “to study and to learn,” he says. At Tufts, he pursued art, religion, poetry, and English—Shakespeare courses in particular. “I wasn’t the best student,” he says, “but the plethora of hard courses I took helped me understand the minds of other people, both in our country and internationally.”

That sort of understanding is a boon to somebody like Leven, who went on to spend more than a half-century in the hospitality business. In 1961, after earning a master’s in public relations and communications at Boston University, Leven landed a position as a sales promotion manager at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. The job paid $495 a month. He rose quickly from there. After the Roosevelt, Leven moved into hotel operations. He became president of Americana Hotels, Days Inn, and Holiday Inn. After a try at semiretirement as head of the Georgia Aquarium, he took on his current position with Las Vegas Sands in 2009. Under his leadership, the company—a major global developer of destination properties—has expanded into Macao and Singapore and plans to open resorts in Japan and Korea in 2017.

He didn’t exactly plan things this way. “I really had no ambition to run a business or be a philanthropist,” he says. “But the more I worked, the more I wanted to be a leader. My industry grew dramatically—and the opportunities grew exponentially with the business.”

Leven and his wife, Andrea, have three sons, Jonathan, A88, Robert, and Adam. In 2010, he founded the Michael and Andrea Leven Family Foundation.

Leven says he is amazed at how far he has traveled since his undergraduate days and is happy to give back to one of the places that formed him. He has donated generously and often to Tufts. One $500,000 gift supports Fletcher School Professor Daniel Drezner’s teaching and research with undergraduates on prosperity, ethics, and capitalism.

Philanthropy is central to Leven’s identity. “My ethnic background”—he is Jewish— “gave me my values, even though my parents never had any money to give away,” he says. “My giving generally goes to those institutions that have made me who I am—Boston Latin School, Tufts, the Jewish community, and Israel causes.”

With his gift to fund the Leven Scholars, he offers that same opportunity to other first-generation students. The students he supports will “learn understanding,” he says. “And I am making a bet that this assistance will help them to be better people.”