Skip to main content
Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

A University Donor With a Checkered Former Employer

Anita Varma

Anita Varma is the assistant director of Social Sector Ethics as well as Journalism & Media Ethics.

Consider the case below. Apply the framework to reach a decision about whether you would accept the gift in question. Then, explain how you would justify your decision to stakeholders. 

A STEM-focused university has just kicked off a new campaign for the current year. The target is unprecedented for this particular university, but the goal is to push hard to expand the university in an effort to serve more students who seek to enter STEM fields. You join the university’s fundraising team largely because of your belief in the university’s mission, vision, and values. Specifically, you’re pleased to see that this university aims to help diversify STEM, starting with accepting a diverse group of students from historically underrepresented backgrounds.  

One afternoon, you receive a call from a donor who identifies as a retired employee of a financial group that is well-known – for a troubling reason: this financial group was in the news during the 2008 recession and admitted to predatory lending practices. You immediately remember the intense outrage when the financial group said publicly that they targeted single moms since the financial group’s leader at the time said, “They wouldn’t know better than to take the loan.”

The donor on the phone worked at the company and retired before any of these issues arose, however. At the same time, the donor’s name is associated with the financial group. The donor tells you that they would not only like to make a donation this year, but plans to make ongoing donations in an effort to give back to the community.

Does it make a difference that the donor was not with the financial group during the 2008 controversy?

If a prospective student’s mother informed you that she was targeted by this financial group during the recession, would that change your position?

Mar 19, 2020


For more information, please contact:

Joan Harrington
Director, Social Sector Ethics

More on Social Sector Ethics