Saturday, June 23, 2007

Public Lives

I am very fond of my undergraduate institution, Wesleyan University. It's a great school, with an amazing intellectual culture that produces more than its fair share of interesting academics, activists, and artists. The incoming president, Michael Roth, is a fairly young alumnus who is an academic himself, the former president of an art school, and seems like a cool guy. (Unlike the previous president, who was an anti-intellectual jerk who made no secret of his general dislike for the student body.) I'm excited about the school's future, and will be a happy (small) donor some day when I have more money.

However, I just noticed something. We got this press release that Robert and Elena Allbritton, young but apparently wealthy alumni, gave $5 million to the school to create a "Center for the Study of Public Life."
The Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life is a response to significant changes across the social sciences, which include the creation of new interdisciplinary ventures, the use of multiple methodologies in research, and the rethinking of the idea of the public in a variety of intellectual and social movements. The Allbritton Center will build on evolving relationships between scholarly research and both the political process and the greater public. It will host courses taught by people who have had distinguished careers in public service, including law, business, government, the non-profit sector, and media. It also will house a Quantitative Analysis Center to educate students in the analysis and interpretation of large bodies of data

Sounded laudable enough to me. The press release goes on to point out that Robert Allbritton founded Politico, a political web site with a Republican slant I find generally annoying, but whatever, it's all good. We left wing types are open-minded about who we associate with.

But do you know what else Robert Allbritton has done in his short career? Well, he was President and CEO of Riggs Bank, a local financial institution in Washington, DC, owned by the Allbritton family. And why does the Allbritton name sound vaguely familiar? Well, in March he resigned as president in disgrace. Why? Let's ask the Washington Post!
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which has closely monitored Riggs since early last year and must approve any senior executive appointments, was informed of Allbritton's replacements, the company said. Riggs was fined a record $25 million by the OCC last spring for failing to comply with anti-money-laundering laws, and in January the bank pleaded guilty and paid a $16 million fine for failing to prevent possible money laundering by former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and officials of the West African nation of Equatorial Guinea.

That's right. It's turn out that the Allbritton family is widely believed to have personally assisted Certified Evil Dictator Augusto Pinochet in hiding his assets from the various courts that are trying to seize them. Want more? Read another Post article. Robert's father Joe seems to have been the major culprit--although some random low-level employees took the legal fall--but it's hard to believe my illustrious brother in Wesleyan alumdom was not part of some very bad things.

And this guy wants to start a "Center for the Study of Public Life"? Well, I suppose it is true that Pinochet did pioneer a certain "rethinking of the idea of the public in a variety of intellectual and social movements," in that, you know, he had most of his public secretly executed.

I guess whatever, Wesleyan can use the Allbritton money. But I respectfully suggest that it might make a fitting tribute to the institutions of democracy if it were renamed the Salvador Allende Memorial Center for the Study of Public Life. After all, 2008 marks the centennial of Allende's birth, and if Robert Allbritton is really looking for a way to assuage some guilt with his gift, he might as well go all the way.

1 comment:

Mary said...

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