In the wake of the Jeffrey Epstein scandal this summer, several elite universities say they still plan to keep his large donations. With MIT, Harvard, Brown, and many more refusing to return funding from the serial child molester, concerns are being raised over the ethics of university donations and gifts.
Epstein was first investigated in 2005 when a Palm Beach, Florida mother reported he’d sexually abused her 14-year-old daughter. Epstein was convicted in 2008, and served 13 months in custody under a plea deal. This allowed him to serve time for only two crimes, even though federal officials had already identified 36 girls, some as young as 14 years old, whom Epstein had sexually abused. He was arrested again on July 6, 2019, for sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York. He died in his jail cell on August 10, 2019.
Epstein made donations to several elite universities. The Associated Press reported Harvard University had already spent the $6.5 million donated by Epstein in 2003. The University of British Columbia will not be returning his $25,000 donation from 2011; the University of Arizona will not return the $50,000 received from him in 2017. Epstein donated $2.5 million to Ohio State University in 2007, and the university has declined to say what will be done with this funding.
Most recently, a research center in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has come under fire for allegedly concealing their extensive fundraising relationship with Epstein. The New Yorker reported on September 6th that Epstein “arranged at least $7.5 million from other wealthy donors” to the MIT Media Lab, including $2 million from Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
A Gates representative denied this association, and MIT President Rafael Reif claimed that the university had only received about $800,000 from Epstein over the last 20 years. Reif announced that they would donate the same amount to a charity for victims of sexual abuse.
According to the New Yorker, the MIT Media Lab continued to accept funding from Epstein even after he was “disqualified” as a university donor. Media Lab director Joi Ito resigned last Saturday, and Reif announced the same day that the MIT Epstein donation “involved a mistake of judgment.”
Institutions decide individually whether or not to accept a gift, and there are no clear standards for the process. The University of Southern California rejected a $5 million donation from Harvey Weinstein in 2017 after he was accused of alleged sexual misconduct. In 2018, Purdue University returned an $8 million donation from Papa John’s Pizza after founder John Schnatter reportedly used racially offensive language on a conference call. These situations are sparking debate over “tainted money” in university and nonprofit donations.