Carl P. Zeithaml, dean of the U-Va. McIntire School of Commerce, said that he immediately received complaints from alumni and faculty members who were concerned and, in some cases, appalled by the substance and framing of Jones’s comments. It seemed to be the opposite of the message that Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is pushing as she visits college campuses and urges young women not to limit themselves.
Jones declined to comment through a spokesman. Zeithaml defended Jones, saying that while the investor’s comments might have been poorly worded, they were an observation of the industry, not an endorsement of it.
“Paul made some comments that were, in most respects, misinterpreted,” Zeithaml said. “Paul was in no way trying to convey bias. . . . I might have said it a little bit differently.”
On April 29, Zeithaml sent a lengthy e-mail to all students and staff to further explain Jones’s comments and urge everyone, especially women and underrepresented minorities, to “enthusiastically and optimistically” pursue careers in which they have interest and aptitude.
“In particular, I strongly encourage women who want to pursue a career in industries or professions that have not traditionally included women in large numbers to do so,” Zeithaml wrote. “You should never be dissuaded by a few statistics from pursuing your passion.”
Zeithaml also sent students an open letter from a 2001 graduate who has worked for a hedge fund and urged young women not to listen to Jones.
“You’re too young and you have no idea where life will lead,” she wrote. “If you choose to quit your job one day, let it be when the choice is upon you and you have tried working and having a family — not today when you have no idea what is possible. Because everyday millions of working mothers go to work in finance and love it. Seek out opportunities you want — not what society tells you that you can and can’t have.”
Jones is one of U-Va.’s most famous graduates and has donated more than $100 million to the university, funding merit scholarships, endowed professorships, environmental sciences and conservation projects and an arena that is named for his father, John Paul Jones.
In 1988, Jones founded the Robin Hood Foundation, which aims to end poverty in New York by investing more than $1 billion in education, health, food and job training programs, then demanding results. The foundation’s advisory board is filled with some of Wall Street’s biggest names and New York’s most famous residents, and its annual fundraiser is considered the city’s most elaborate party of the year. At a recent gala, comedian Seth Meyers joked: “It’s amazing who is here tonight. . . . It’s like the one percent has its own one percent.”
Education is one of Jones’s highest priorities, and the foundation heavily funds charter schools and college prep programs. Jones is also on the board of StudentsFirstNY, a branch of the education reform organization started by Michelle A. Rhee, the former D.C. schools chancellor.
“The only way to break the cycle of poverty statistically is higher levels of education attract higher levels of income,” Jones said in a 60 Minutes special on Sunday that focused on his philanthropy. “The only way to beat poverty in America is to completely, totally transform our public education system. It’s the only way.”
In April 2012, Jones and his wife, Sonia, announced they had donated $12 million to U-Va. to create a Contemplative Sciences Center, which pulls together different academic disciplines to study contemplative and yogic traditions. In a video posted on the university’s YouTube channel, the couple explained how Ashtanga yoga changed their lives and how they hope this interdisciplinary center will transform higher education.
“It might surprise you to know that faculty members with expertise in these fields have been at the university for several years,” Sonia Jones said in the video. Her husband continued: “This new center will tie these people and programs together and weave them into one fantastic whole for the benefit of the entire community.”
That announcement came as Vanity Fair’s April 2012 edition featured a lengthy article about Sonia Jones, the “lithe blonde” who started yoga studios and a clothing line inspired by her Ashtanga yoga teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who died in 2009. Some followers of Jois have criticized Sonia Jones for starting these businesses so soon after their teacher’s death.
Two months later, Jones became ensnared in his alma mater’s leadership crisis. Soon after U-Va. President Teresa Sullivan was forced by the school’s governing board to resign, an action criticized by many, Jones came to the defense of the board in an opinion piece published in the local newspaper.
Jones wrote that while Sullivan was “a good woman who was a good steward during her tenure,” the university needed “proactive leadership to match the pace of change.”
“President Sullivan’s departure is a clarion call from the Board of Visitors that business as usual is not acceptable anymore,” Jones wrote in the June 17 piece. “Why be good when there is outstanding to be had?”
After Sullivan was reinstated as president, Jones called her to express his regret for the op-ed and to offer his support, according to associates.