A leading political academic has resigned from his Oxford University post after it emerged that one of its key patrons is one of Donald Trump’s biggest financial backers.

Bo Rothstein was professor of government and public policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, named after the Ukraine-born billionaire Leonard Blavatnik who gave the university £75m to set up the school.

Rothstein told the Guardian that he resigned on Monday after learning that Blavatnik had given a substantial donation to the Trump campaign, which he called “incomprehensible and irresponsible”.

Blavatnik, who is an associate of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is reported to have donated $1m to Trump’s inauguration committee, as well as millions of dollars to his campaign.

In his resignation letter, Rothstein said: “President Trump stands for a system of governing that is completely contrary to what I have come to define as ‘quality of government’.”

He pointed out that his own research had found that “quality of government” is crucial for improving human well-being.

The letter added: “As I see it, Donald Trump’s policies are also antithetical to the goal of the Blavatnik School of Government, which aims ‘to improve the quality of government and public policy-making worldwide, so that citizens can enjoy more secure and more fulfilled lives’. I therefore find Mr Blavatnik’s decision to support Donald Trump both incomprehensible and irresponsible.

“Mr Blavatnik’s decision to support Donald Trump makes it impossible for me to continue at the Blavatnik School of Government. Given the results from my research, my activities for increasing the ethical standards in higher education, my public statements about the pressing need for integrity and impartiality for holders of public office, as well as the content of my teaching, I cannot give legitimacy and credibility to a person who is supporting Donald Trump. There is simply no way I can defend this in front of students or colleagues.”

Oxford is yet to respond to Rothstein’s resignation. The university was heavily criticised for accepting the original donation from Blavatknik. In a open letter published in the Guardian in 2015, a group of academics urged Oxford to “stop selling its reputation and prestige to Putin’s associates”.

The signatories accused the university of failing to investigate whether Blavatnik and other “oligarchs” played any role in what they described as a state-sponsored campaign of harassment against BP in Russia in 2008.

Blavatnik was named the UK’s richest man in 2015, with an estimated wealth of more than £17.1bn. He made his fortune through his company Access Industries, which began buying up aluminium and businesses in Russia during the fall of the Soviet Union. He has since expanded into property, film and music and took control of Warner Music Group for $3.3bn in 2011.

He became a US citizen in 1984 and a UK citizen in 2010.

Rothstein, an expert on political governance and corruption, told the Swedish news site Dagen Nyheter that he read about Blavatnik’s donations to Trump in the Dallas News.

He said: “It feels very sad, it was very fun to be in Oxford. On the other hand, I can not defend giving legitimacy or credibility to a person who gives big donations to a government that stands for the opposite of what I work for.”

He said Trump stood for nepotism, attacks on the free press, and support for xenophobic groups.


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