If all philanthropists were required to be morally upright, hospitals would be low on new wings and colleges would be starved for buildings. We'd also be missing a few beloved institutions outright — Stanford and Carnegie Mellon universities are cases in point. Charity is a virtue that should not be off-limits to scoundrels — if, in fact, they are truly giving to an institution rather than tethering their donations with strings that benefit them.
Lowell Milken would probably be counted among the less pristine philanthropists, though not among the most scurrilous. Tied to the Wall Street junk-bond scandals of the 1980s, he was banned from further work in the securities industry but was never tried criminally (though his brother Michael served time). He has been a steady donor in recent years, largely to educational causes. And now his $10-million gift to UCLA's law school is being questioned by a prominent professor who says, with some justification, that it would look odd to name an institute of business law after a man whose transgressions were in that very field.
The more serious ethical problem for universities lies in, say, accepting tobacco company money for research on smoking addiction (as UCLA did a few years ago) or in allowing faculty members to receive big consulting fees from pharmaceutical companies whose drugs they are evaluating. Even without a defined quid pro quo, money puts subtle pressure on researchers. And universities should be deeply wary of such donors as the head of Harris Ranch Beef Co., who threatened to reconsider his regular contributions to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo if the school went ahead with a planned lecture by Michael Pollan, a critic of industrial agriculture. To the college's shame, it caved and turned Pollan's talk into a panel discussion.