Beware gift-bearing robber barons because there’s almost always ...

World

Beware gift-bearing robber barons because there’s almost always a catch

By donating large sums to centres of learning, tainted family dynasties and opportunists seek to blunt human rights

Martin Ivens

For centuries, rich, ruthless men have funded centres of learning as a form of spiritual money laundering and to perpetuate the glory of their names. In death, as in life, they drove hard bargains.

Oxford and Cambridge, the UK’s ancient universities, have done well out of such bequests compared with their British and European rivals. But the era of scrutiny-free donations has drawn to an end; the universities face a new and testing environment when it comes to defending decisions to stash the cash and plant a prominent name plate on a new library or graduate centre.

Last week, Oxford, ranked number one in world university league tables, was accused of “moral failure” after it accepted millions of pounds from a charitable trust set up by the Mosley family, a clan tainted by its links to the British fascist party of the 1930s. The rules governing donations are not hard and fast, though the moral calculus of accepting large philanthropic sums is usually overseen by institutional ethics committees. A short-term squall or reputational hit can be factored in, as long as the money was legally earned and brings benefit to educational, charitable (and more comfortable) facilities. ..

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