Lawrence Lessig discusses the different ways universities are funded. He breaks this down into four types:
- Type 1 is people like Tom Hanks or Taylor Swift — people who are wealthy and whose wealth comes from nothing but doing good.
- Type 2 is entities like Google or Facebook, or people whose wealth comes from those companies. These are people who are wealthy because of their work within companies of ambiguous good. Some love them. Some hate them. Some think they are the key to all that’s evil in the age that’s coming. Some think they are the key to all that will be good.
- Type 3 is people who are criminals, but whose wealth does not derive from their crime. This is Epstein, but not just Epstein. It may be that we’ll discover that Epstein got rich by blackmailing people whom he had encouraged or enabled to commit abuse. I doubt it, but it’s possible. Suffice it that when Joi was investigating whether that criminal continued his crime, no one was suggesting that his enormous wealth was the product of blackmail or sex slavery. He was, the world assumed, a brilliant, savant-like investor, who was also a sexual predator.
- Type 4 is entities and people whose wealth comes from clearly wrongful or harmful or immoral behavior. The RJ Reynolds Foundation, the Sacklers, the Kochs: I recognize that people have different views about these people or entities, but it is not hard to identify the enormous harm that each has caused. Smoking has killed multiples of the German Holocaust. Since 1999, more than 200,000 have died from OxyContin overdoses — four times the number of Americans killed in Vietnam (even if that’s less than a fifth of the number of people killed in that insane war). If there is a single family responsible for the fact that we to this day have no comprehensive legislation addressing climate change, it is the Kochs. This money is blood money. It is wealth that is great because of the harm.
He explains that universities take money from all types. For Lessig, this is why he argued that Joi Ito should not have had to resign and why donations should be anonymous. However, he also adds that he should have stopped Ito from accepting the money.
In response, Siva Vaidhyanathan provides a critique:
He argues that Epstein’s intent in donating to MIT was not whitewashing, but rather to gain access to powerful men. Another reason to donate is the corruption of research. In the end, “the only reason to keep MIT donations secret is to dodge scrutiny.”