Seven months ago, I first reported that Spelman College announced the suspension of an endowed professorship in humanities that was funded by Bill and Camille Cosby. At that time, I called on the College to either renegotiate the gift or return it to the Cosby family.
On July 26, 2015, the College revealed its decision to terminate The William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professorship and to return the donation to the Clara Elizabeth Jackson Carter Foundation, established by Camille Cosby.
Last December, Spelman issued this one-paragraph statement:
December 14, 2014 — The William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professorship was established to bring positive attention and accomplished visiting scholars to Spelman College in order to enhance our intellectual, cultural and creative life; however, the current context prevents us from continuing to meet these objectives fully. Consequently, we will suspend the program until such time that the original goals can again be met.”
Amid mounting accusations of sexual assault involving Bill Cosby, the College decided to terminate the endowed professorship. As of this publication date, Cosby has not been charged with any related crime.
As I stated in my December post, nonprofit organizations are ethically required to use a donor’s contribution in the way in which the donor intended. The applicable portions of the Donor Bill of Rights “declares that all donors have these rights”:
IV. To be assured their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given….
V. To receive appropriate acknowledgement and recognition….
VI. To be assured that information about their donations is handled with respect and with confidentiality to the extent provided by law.”
The relevant passages from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Code of Ethical Principles state:
14. Members shall take care to ensure that contributions are used in accordance with donors’ intentions….
16. Members shall obtain explicit consent by donors before altering the conditions of financial transactions.”
By returning the gift after deciding not to use it for the intended purpose, the College acted ethically. However, a number of other ethical questions remain unanswered: