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Pretty v. Ugly at the University
February 3, 2009 - 9:22pm



Bernard Madoff is a classic Mafia-style gangster. He comes from gangsters - his mother was a crook. Investigators are looking into his father-in-law. A lot of his friends and investors are crooks. He was born a crook, has always been a crook.

"The FBI believes Madoff may never have properly invested any of the money entrusted to him," writes Stephen Foley in The Independent. That's <em>never</em>. Madoff is in his seventies.

Psychopathically evil, Madoff makes an exception - again, Mafia-style - for his closest family and friends. His last act before turning himself in was writing big checks to the inner circle.

Tomorrow, Harry Markopolos will tell Congress how easy it was, ten years ago, for him to prove that Madoff was a crook, and how difficult it was for him to convince the SEC, or anyone else, of this obvious truth.

An ugly story, isn't it.... Ugh. Let us turn to the verdant paths of Brandeis University, and walk to the door of its art museum, where pretty canvases hang on the walls and rekindle our sense of the beauty of the world and the goodness of mankind.

Yet all of this beauty will soon be shuttered, because that ugly world is all over Brandeis. It's all over a number of other universities, too -- Yeshiva, Bard, NYU, all the schools who loved charitable Bernie Madoff and his charitable friends.

Madoff, after all, was a philanthropist.

Not that he, as the word suggests, loves people. He hates people.

But he (and benefactors like Carl Shapiro, his closest business associate) gave lots of money to pretty places like universities, places that stand for love, not hate, and beauty, not ugliness. Why did he do that?

For the same reason many other crooks do it. To get their names on buildings, and, much more importantly, to launder their images. Madoff's been cleaning himself up for public consumption all his life, and there's nothing like gifts to universities to do oneself up <em>real</em> good.

University Diaries has covered, over the years, many amusing stories of universities using the latest in stone-blasting technology to get the names of crooks off of buildings the crooks endowed. At any given time, some university in this country is using power tools on its walls in a desperate effort to dissociate itself from scum. Here's the latest case. One of the most amusing was Dennis Kozlowski at Seton Hall.

Even if it doesn't call for power tools, the problem of taking crooks' money can be just as troublesome, as with the University of Missouri-Columbia's Kenneth L. Lay Chair in International Economics.

Sometimes things call for quick-action internet prowess. Recall how, deep in the pre-exposure night, Yeshiva University deleted from its webpages the once-sainted names of Bernard Madoff and his partner, Ezra Merkin.

Our wretched economy will continue to reveal the reputation-laundering enterprise some of our universities have been running.

Just as every Madoff associate or victim claims to be a deceived innocent, so these campuses will tell us they never suspected a thing.

The farce would be fun to watch if it weren't so incredibly destructive.


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