NYU’s Board of Trustees launched an investigation after seven women in Jewish philanthropic organizations claimed Michael Steinhardt — the namesake of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development — sexually harassed them.
In a report by The New York Times and ProPublica, the women alleged that the billionaire board member would repeatedly ask if they wanted to have sex with him. It was also alleged that Steinhardt would make comments on their bodies and fertility.
The scope of the investigation, which was announced at a University Senate meeting on March 28, is limited to Steinhardt’s interactions with NYU faculty, students and staff. A subcommittee comprised of four trustees and an outside counsel will carry out the investigation. In a statement to WSN, the Board did not specify what the investigation would look like, how long it would take or the name of the outside organization it is working with.
“Although there is no specific timeframe, rest assured that the subcommittee will work diligently,” the Board wrote.
When the allegations against Steinhardt broke, Dean of Steinhardt Dominic Brewer sent an email to students in the school condemning his actions.
“[T]he kind of remarks and behavior recounted in the news story are out-of-step with our school’s values,” Brewer wrote.
According to the Board, members who are not involved in the investigative subcommittee will meet with students and faculty to hear their input on Steinhardt, although the Board did not specify how much of a role this will play in the investigation.
On campus, students have voiced support for changing the name of the Steinhardt school, but there have been no protests, petitions or letters on the matter.
If the school’s name was to be changed, it would be the first time NYU did so due to controversy. In 2015, the Black and Brown Coalition sent a list of demands to the Board of Trustees, one being changing the name of the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, saying that Bobst was an anti-Semite and an accused pedophile. The administration has not taken action on the issue. That same year, NYU did remove Bill Cosby’s name from a film program following sexual assault allegations against the actor.
Nationwide, other universities have changed the names of buildings with controversial namesakes. At Yale University in 2017, students successfully protested to have the name of Calhoun College changed because namesake John C. Calhoun was a slave owner. Yale renamed the college after Grace Murray Hopper, a Navy admiral and computer scientist. Last year, the University of Texas at Austin’s student government passed a resolution to change the name of Robert Lee Moore Hall, named after a mathematician who held segregationist views, although UT administration has not taken action.
When asked about the possibility of changing the name of the Steinhardt school or the criteria that would warrant the Board to recommend a name change for a building, the Board cited the current investigation into Steinhardt as a reason to not comment.
“[W]ith these efforts underway, it would inappropriate to engage in speculative discussion about unrelated matters,” the Board wrote.
Email Meghna Maharishi at [email protected]