Harvard Receives $12.3M Gift to Study Ethics

An intense focus on ethics isn’t new at business schools, which are still feeling the ripple effects of the worldwide financial crisis. Harvard University will once again ramp up its efforts in this area thanks to a $12.3 million gift from Lily Safra that will fund a cross-disciplinary research laboratory to study ethics, with institutional corruption being the project’s initial focus.

While many schools have ethics courses that are required components of their curricula, Lawrence Lessig, director of the Center for Ethics and a Harvard Law School professor,launched the new laboratory to address fundamental problems of ethics in a way that provides benefit to government and society. The lab’s first project focuses on the problem of institutional corruption.

“The traditional ethics questions are questions of right and wrong, of following the rules and not following the rules, and of what the rules should be,” Lessig tells the New York Times. “This is a subset set of that. Nobody is saying that anyone is cheating; this is more of a question about how to structure institutions to produce the kind of independence that we want these institutions to have.”

Several of the studies currently under way at the lab tackle issues of importance to Wall Street, the Times reveals, with one project focusing on ratings agencies, while another deals with corporate auditing.  Other research projects extend into areas beyond finance.

Safra made the donation in memory of her late husband, Edmond J. Safra, a prominent philanthropist and founder of the Republic National Bank of New York. The gift will help support the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, permanently endow the graduate fellowship program, and fund the research lab.


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