Higher Education Institutions Address the Danger of Donor Dollars

Deni Elliott

Private donors are giving colleges and universities record amounts of money – along with increasingly frequent bouts of public shame when they turn out to have embarrassing baggage.

Revelations that Yale, Columbia, Cornell and other prestigious schools in the U.S. and elsewhere accepted millions over the past five years from members of the Sackler family have raised questions from students and alumni. The schools kept accepting donations even as the Sacklers were being sued over their drug company’s role in bringing on the U.S. opioid crisis.

Likewise, the willingness of Stanford, Harvard and MIT to take money from disgraced financier and alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein has caused upheaval on those campuses.

I have studied the ethical questions school leaders face regarding donor dollars for more than 20 years. This new airing of institutional dirty laundry has reinforced my theory of what colleges and universities should do to protect themselves and their reputations moving forward.

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