Money should not buy moral absolution

HANNAH LEE / AGGIE

USC refuses Weinstein’s money, sets example for institutions

In response to The New York Times’ story detailing allegations of sexual harassment and abuse stretching back decades, Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein sent a statement to The Times apologizing for his behavior and renewing his pledge to create a $5 million scholarship fund for female directors at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.

The university confirmed in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that it “will not proceed with Mr. Weinstein’s pledge.” The same day, a student petition was released calling on USC to “muster the moral spine to reject Harvey Weinstein’s blood money in exchange for its soul.”

USC’s rejection of Weinstein’s money is a bold, principled and all-too-uncommon stance. To accept the donation would be to enable the familiar pattern — self-flagellating public statement, large donation to relevant charity or nonprofit to assuage public outcry, soft landing, no substantive change — that often occurs when a similar set of accusations surfaces.

When politicians receive donations, it is in the public interest to know from whom or whence they came, because we recognize that money buys influence for its donor over its recipient, placing them in the donor’s debt.

Morally, ethically and politically, individuals and institutions must account for who or what shapes their views and who can pull strings. $5 million, given by one of the most powerful men in one of the world’s most powerful industries, pulls quite a few strings. In accepting the money, USC would have had to account for tying itself to a man accused of actions that are beyond reprehensible. We demand that our politicians and policy-makers justify the influence of their financial backers. We should demand no less from our institutions of higher education.

The Editorial Board therefore applauds USC for rejecting Weinstein’s money and refusing to be the site of his moral buy-back program. The university’s stance sends a message to all that money should not buy moral absolution. Weinstein’s attempt at image rehabilitation and a generous donation cannot take away the profoundly painful violation of so many women.

The unfolding story of Weinstein’s alleged misdeeds is a story about sexual harassment and abuse. But it’s also a story about power and money and reputation, about cover-ups and threats, out-of-court settlements and non-disclosure agreements.

USC’s stance should also serve as a reminder to the powerful — both institutions and the individuals who run them — that you are judged by the company you keep. You will be called on to account for and justify whoever or whatever bankrolls your enterprises.

Weinstein has previously been successful in using his wealth and power to make problems go away. For USC to refuse to play this game is a bold move that we must demand from every person, organization and institution. We must not allow our universities to become sellers of indulgences. To do so would be to declare absolute moral bankruptcy.

As the student petition says: “We don’t need this money. What we need is some damn principles.”

Written By: The California Aggie Editorial Board