The Hopeful Legacy of Elmer Bobst

Mitch Bedows

Every so often, it seems, students express serious discontent over Elmer Holmes Bobst Library being named after a historic figure who has espoused anti-Semitic views. While the calls to rename the library are justified, the name should remain as a testament to progress.

At over 150 feet tall, with nearly half a million square feet of floor space, Bobst Library is a truly striking edifice at NYU. It serves as the intellectual Mecca for campus as it overlooks the passion pit of Washington Square Park and the gigantic towers of Manhattan to the north and south. Yet its namesake, Elmer Holmes Bobst once proudly wrote to former President Richard Nixon: “Jews have troubled the world from the very beginning. If this beloved country of ours ever falls apart, the blame rightly should be attributed to the malicious action of Jews in complete control of our communications.”

To object, NYU students have previously written for the Opinion section of WSN. In 2016, the Black and Brown Coalition made various requests to NYU, one of which was to rename the library. I doubt there’s any way of justifying the degree of prejudice expressed by Bobst, but I don’t believe changing the name of our library is the way forward. Instead, I think NYU should wear the name with pride.

Most people who make the argument for changing the name are mainly concerned with the statement it makes about NYU. Morally speaking, it is unfair that millions of people — people of color, women, the working class — that have led incredibly distinguished lives have gone unnoticed, while Bobst’s name hails over Washington Square Park. But we should take this honor and actively twist it into shame.

Even though I’m Jewish, I don’t find myself getting deeply angry about the anti-Semitism of some dead guy — especially Bobst. Not only is he dead, but in a stroke of delicious irony, he spent a great portion of his life’s earnings on one of the most notoriously successful Jewish universities in the world. Thanks to Bobst’s money, the Jewish student population at NYU — around 13 percent of the undergraduate class — gets to enjoy some of the finest resources available.

I honestly think it’s hilarious. So why not advertise that? It’s the absolute last thing he would have ever wanted. And that’s the best part. As for those worried way too much about statements and public image, advertising the ironic failure of his hatred shows an entirely new message: hatred doesn’t work.

 

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Mitch Bedows at [email protected]

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