New East Digital Archive

Oxford professor quits Blavatnik school after discovering founder donated to Trump

4 September 2017

A professor at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford has resigned after discovering that its USSR-born billionaire founder, Len Blavatnik, made a $1m donation to Donald Trump’s inauguration committee.

Known for his often unprecedented charitable donations in the UK, the Ukrainian billionaire donated £75m ($97m) to set up the Blavatnik School of Government, one of the largest donations in the university’s history. Having received a knighthood this year for his philanthropic contributions, Blavatnik has also made healthy contributions to the Tate Modern and the V&A museum in London, with his name being added to the cultural institutions’ new extension and entrance hall, respectively.

However when Bo Rothstein, a professor of government and public policy at the school of government, discovered the sizeable sum Blavatnik had donated to Donald Trump, the cleanliness of the Ukrainian’s expenditure was called into question. Following the discovery, Rothstein resigned immediately, calling the donation “incomprehensible and irresponsible”.

“I’m not going to give legitimacy and credibility to this person. $1m is a sizeable amount of money. In my book by donating to the inauguration of Donald Trump you are supporting Donald Trump,” he subsequently told The Guardian.

In response, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian philanthropist stated that Blavatnik’s donation was to the inaugration committee that was founded over a century ago, and that he never donated to Trump directly.

This is not however the first time Oxford has found itself in the mire of a Blavatnik-based scandal. Two years ago, a group of activists and academics, including Russian physicist Pavel Litvinov, urged Oxford not to accept the billionaire’s £75m ($97m) donation and to “stop selling its reputation and prestige to Putin’s associates”.

Blavatnik is known to have close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin, and it is widely argued that his business background is rife with controversy. After being born in Odessa, Ukraine, Blavatnik attended the Moscow State University of Railway Engineering before emigrating to the USA in 1978. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Blavatnik partnered with Viktor Vekselberg and Mikhail Fridman, two of Russia’s richest men today, to form the AAR cosortium that eventually partnered with BP to create TNK-BP, one of the largest oil companies in Russia. In 2011, Blavatnik bought Warner Music for $3.3b, furthering his financial influence in the arts globally.

Source: The Guardian