SLAC prof asks:
Is taking money from Jeffrey Epstein worse than taking money from the Koch foundation? Which is worse? Clearly we shouldn’t take money from the KKK. Is it ok to take anyone’s money if there aren’t strings, or is there a line? Who gets to decide the line? Does Koch money ever truly have no strings? Should personal morals be irrelevant when an institution takes money?
Oh wow, this is a hard one. We’re really not ethicists and don’t have enough expertise to have an opinion on non-obvious cases. That said… here are some thoughts.
First off, personally I think it’s fine to take money that doesn’t have strings attached (including naming rights!!) from the estate of someone who is dead. So if you’re an institution that has a morally horrific but extremely wealthy graduate and he just gives you a couple million in his will but it’s completely unrestricted, go ahead and take it without advertising it. Put it towards something completely antithetical to what he would have wanted (sexual assault prevention training for freshmen with a focus on how not to assualt) or spend it on something boring (utility bills) freeing up that fungible money for other things. If he says you have to name something after him or hire someone specific etc., then don’t take the money (and advertise you didn’t take it).
If the bad person or group is still alive, don’t take money with strings attached. No naming rights. No final approval of tenure track hires.
When there aren’t strings it gets much more complicated. Yes, one shouldn’t take KKK money (unless it’s used for training frats how not to do blackface or to pay for programs etc. that benefit black students and faculty– I’m a big fan of F-U uses of bad guys’ money). But if Koch money is offered for something that isn’t evil (no strings scholarships)? And they do fund things that aren’t evil along with their massive funding of evil… I’m not sure. I mean, I’d like to encourage them to spend more money on not-evil and less money on evil. But I don’t want them to get credit for the not-evil stuff as if it makes up for the evil stuff because it really doesn’t.
This is hard.
What do you think, Grumpy Nation? Should institutes of higher education accept money from bad people and bad organizations? Under what circumstances?