For those of you interested in the ethics of gift-givingâor, in the case of the Summers-New wedding registration, gift-askingâhere’s an interesting story: In Florida, the Republican speaker of the House has just proposed a complete ban on gift-giving to state legislators.
(Currently Wisconsin is the only state that bans such gifts, which tells you a little something about the state of state legislatures. )
In the 1990s, according to the St. Petersburg Times, “a scandal in which lobbyists provided lawmakers with free trips to hunting lodges, ski chalets and even the French Riviera led to nearly two dozen lawmakers being charged with misdemeanors. A chastened Legislature rewrote state law to compel disclosure of all gifts worth more than $25 and a ban on gifts worth more than $100.”
Of course, there are differences between lobbyists’ gifts to legislators and wedding gifts to a university president, but the ethical question is the same: People can give them for reasons of influence-peddling, and people who receive them can be influenced. I’m not suggesting that President Summers institute a ban on wedding gifts…just that he ask people to direct their gifts to Harvard. It’s an easy, appropriate step. Does he really need that $150 ice cream-maker anyway?
This is hardly Harvard’s most pressing issue. But sometimes these small incidents have bearing on larger issues of ethics and character.