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Dealing With Disreputable Donors

Dealing With Disreputable Donors

Inside Higher Ed

Josh Moody
May 31, 2023
When Bard College president Leon Botstein first met financier Jeffrey Epstein, Epstein was a convicted and registered sex offender.
That didn’t stop Botstein from accepting a personal gift of $150,000 from Epstein, which the president then directed to the college as part of his own $1 million gift, The New York Times reported. Epstein’s gift—which Botstein has downplayed—raises questions about how colleges should handle criminal donors and whom presidents should engage with in their fundraising duties.
On the grand scale, Epstein’s total contributions to Bard are relatively small: $75,000 and 66 laptops, as well as the $150,000 Botstein later redirected to the college. But many friends and colleagues of Epstein—who died in jail in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges—have faced harsh scrutiny as details of the ultrawealthy financier’s heinous actions have emerged in recent years. Now Botstein is the latest associate to defend his ties to Epstein, framing his relationship with the famed sexual predator as part of the job of being a college president.
‘An Ordinary Sex Offender’
Bard College did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But Botstein has defended taking Epstein’s money in interviews with both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
“People don’t understand what this job is,” Botstein told the Times for a story published in early May, adding, “You cannot pick and choose, because among the very rich is a higher percentage of unpleasant and not very attractive people. Capitalism is a rough system.”
Botstein also made clear in the interview that he was aware of Epstein’s deviant sexual history, which included a 2008 conviction in Florida for soliciting prostitution from someone under 18. In the interview, Botstein called Epstein “an ordinary—if you could say such a thing—sex offender who had been convicted and went to jail.”
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