NYU Namesakes – Controversial or Historical?

Rachael Heistuman
Elmer Holmes Bobst of NYU’s Bobst Library was an anti-semite. Thus, the Black and Brown Coalition wants the building renamed.

After years of discussion on campus, Yale University announced Feb. 11 that it would rename a residential college named after former U.S. Vice President and notorious white supremacist John C. Calhoun. The undergraduate residential college will now be named after Grace Murray Hopper, a woman who not only served as a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy but also made great strides in the world of computer sciences by inventing the military language COBOL. Here are the varied stories of people behind NYU namesake buildings.

Bobst Library

Although he supported cancer research, education and donated $11.5 million to NYU to build its library, Elmer Holmes Bobst was an anti-semite. Students protested Bobst Library for its construction in 1972 due to the overwhelming cost, but Bobst negative remarks about Jews in his correspondence with President Nixon still alarm students today, with the Black and Brown Coalition calling for the erasure of Bobst’s name from the library.

Steinhardt freshman Anna Fleury sees both sides of the argument.

“It’s a complicated situation, because Elmer Bobst was a philanthropist and a part of NYU’s history and I believe that should be acknowledged,” she said. “I don’t believe that NYU supports his ties to anti-Semitism in any way, but we should push to change the name to recognize someone who represents NYU’s core values going into the future.”

Helen & Martin Kimmel Center for University Life

Martin Kimmel, the namesake of our student center, served in the U.S. Army during World War II before becoming a real estate mogul. Kimmel donated $35 million to NYU, helping to fund the completion of our student center and the Helen and Martin Kimmel Center for Stem Cell Biology.

Silver Center for Arts and Science

The Silver Center for Arts and Science was named after alumnus Julius Silver, who was able to attend NYU on an annual scholarship of $77.50 and a $100 loan. Thanks to his schooling at NYU, Silver helped found the Polaroid Corporation as well as a law firm in New York. Wanting to give back to the university, Silver donated over $150 million, which funds scholarships for today’s students and has attracted new faculty.

Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development

Michael Steinhardt, although not an NYU alumnus, graciously gave two donations of $10 million to the university, prompting the renaming of the School of Pedagogy to the Steinhardt School of Education, which later became the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. Steinhardt is well known for his philanthropic efforts toward Jewish causes, donating to the American Hebrew Academy and co-founding Taglit-Birthright Israel with Charles Bronfman, namesake of our Jewish Community Center.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 21 print edition. Email Rachael Heistuman at [email protected]

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