A report from the Wall Street Journal last Sunday revealed that Jeffery Epstein, a convicted sex offender and known child abuser, had a large scope of contacts with notable members of society who knew who he was. One of the more upsetting people on this list was Leon Botstein, President of Bard College, a small liberal arts college. Botstein held several meetings with Epstein prior to his recent death to raise more money for Bard College. Several people associated with the college now feel uncomfortable with this new information, while Botstein supports his approach to keeping the school funded. But knowing Epstein’s history, particularly with young girls and women, was Botstein justified in accepting his help? What moral responsibilities does Botstein have and what does he owe to the college?
Jeffery Epstein worked in the education field before becoming a financier later on in life and then creating his firm in 1982, J. Epstein and Co. The government’s initial interest in Epstein’s criminal activity began in 2005 when a woman contacted the Palm Beach Police Department in Florida after claiming her daughter had been brought to Epstein’s home to give sexual favors in exchange for money. Eventually, the FBI got involved and conducted an investigation until they found evidence, and Epstein pled guilty in 2008 to the solicitation of prostitution involving a minor. He then served 13 months of an 18-month sentence when he was given a work release, allowing him to work at an office six days a week outside of the jail, but he was also registered as a sex offender. A few years later, in 2019, police barged into Epstein’s home with a search warrant, found further evidence of sex trafficking, and Epstein was arrested again. However, just about a month later, Epstein was found dead in his cell; his death was determined a suicide. But just a few months later, a doctor working for him declared that Epstein's injuries were unlikely to occur from a suicidal strangling but rather a homicidal strangling.
Thus, given Epstein’s history, it was surprising, to say the least, when the Wall Street Journal reported that Botstein had pursued Epstein several times in the last few years—the New York Times interviewed Botstein about his meetings with Epstein and his rationale. Botstein explained how Bard College was in a rough position in 2008 during the financial crisis and needed help. In 2011, Epstein gave Bard College $75,000 - incredibly curious considering he had no affiliation or association with the school. Thus, Bostein followed up with him, and that follow-up became around 20 visits to Epstein in about four years, many at his home. Epstein later also gave the college 66 laptops.
Botstein noted, “Capitalism is a rough system…We’re completely at the mercy of the very wealthy.” He added that the college looked up Epstein and found that he was a registered sex offender but that Bard believes in rehabilitation. Bard College is well-known for its program, which offers college courses to currently incarcerated individuals - the Bard Prison Initiative - which was highlighted in the documentary College Behind Bars.
Further, Botstein said Epstein was dangling his philanthropic support in front of him, bringing Botstein along for a wild ride that ended in a lack of donations for Bard College. He even described their relationship as “sadism on [Epstein’s] part.”
However, suspicions are now being raised as the news broke that not only did Botstein tail Epstein for financial support, but he also invited the financier to Bard College twice. Botstein invited Epstein to attend musical performances at the school, as Botstein has an extensive musical background as a conductor. According to Botstein, Epstein was not a threat when he visited the school because the school “had security ready” and Epstein “did not have any free access to anybody.”
Similar to discussions nowadays about the art versus the artist, the same can be said for the money versus the donor. Many schools and other organizations that require fundraising face similar dilemmas: who is it acceptable to take money from? When do their values begin to become compromised? As an institution, Botstein made sure it was known that Bard believed in rehabilitation. Still, Bard also has several early colleges across the country - including a new one in the South Bronx to open shortly - to create more equity in the incredibly segregated and hierarchical world of education. They want to give everyone an equal opportunity to receive a quality education and equal footing. However, as a school, Bard must prioritize its students and their safety. One could argue that inviting a man with an extensive history of abusing young girls and women would threaten students’ safety or comfort while they are only trying to further their education.
To conclude, Jeffery Epstein had an extensive network of prominent members of society, both before and after his conviction. Leon Botstein was doing his job, raising money for Bard College, as he was quick to point out, but he also admitted that he was embarrassed by letting himself be strung along by Epstein. Critical decisions, such as those surrounding an entire network’s financing, are more than just a one-time occurrence. Perhaps in the future, Botstein will reconsider where his funding is sourced from and think twice before accepting money from just anyone.
Edited by Whitney Edna Ibe
Share This Post On
Leave a comment
You need to login to leave a comment. Log-in