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Ethics fly out of the window at Oxford University when big donors come calling

3 9 0

What do we know about Stephen Schwarzman, the US financier whose name, following his £150m donation to the University of Oxford, is destined to become synonymous – as the Schwarzman Centre – with the humanities, the study of ethics in particular?

Much of Oxford’s press release introducing him to British audiences dwells on the philanthropy evidenced in already-colonised academic zones: the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing; the Schwarzman Scholars programme at Schwarzman College (in China); the Stephen A Schwarzman Building (formerly known as New York Public Library); Yale’s Stephen A Schwarzman Center, Yale protesters having had less success, to date, than angry parents at Schwarzman’s old school, Abington. For a donation of $25m, he had wanted it renamed after himself, with separate spaces going to his twin brothers, Mark and Warren.

But it would be mistaken, it turns out, to conclude from the university’s reverent summary of Schwarzman’s academy-naming frenzy that the donor is concerned only with scholarship. For those in private equity, where he made his estimated $11.6bn fortune, Schwarzman needs no introduction; others might find it more illuminating to situate him within Philip Green’s aesthetic movement.

The men’s extreme experiments in partying, in different countries but with a similar disregard for either taste or national adversity, must add weight to the theory that some great innovations are, as Malcolm Gladwell once put it, “in the air”.

Consider that, when he had friends, Green flew them around the world for celebrations featuring, for instance (for his Nero-themed 50th) Rod Stewart. In 2007, a £6m party for which 200 guests were transported to the Maldives and entertained by George Michael and........

© The Guardian