Philanthropist and billionaire Michael Steinhardt — the namesake of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development — was accused of sexual harassment by several women he worked with in various Jewish organizations last Thursday.
In a report by The New York Times and ProPublica, seven women alleged that Steinhardt had repeatedly asked to have sex with them. Steinhardt also made comments about their bodies and fertility.
After the allegations broke, the Steinhardt school sent out an email to its students condemning its namesake’s actions but acknowledging Steinhardt’s status as an important donor.
“The Steinhardts’ support of our school has been generous, to be sure, and it has helped many of our students and programs,” the email reads. “Notwithstanding that, the kind of remarks and behavior recounted in the news story are out-of-step with our school’s values.”
In a statement to WSN, university spokesperson John Beckman said the university was reviewing Steinhardt’s actions with students, faculty and staff.
The Steinhardt school was originally founded as the School of Pedagogy in 1890, and it was the first professional school established in a U.S. university dedicated to teacher education. It was named after Steinhardt in 2001 after he donated $10 million to the school. He donated another $10 million in 2006.
Steinhardt first-year Isabella Franklin was surprised to hear of the allegations made against the namesake of her school.
“[T]his wasn’t a person I’d heard of before outside of the context of the school,” Franklin said. “I was also pretty disappointed because Steinhardt is obviously a big part of my life.”
Steinhardt sophomore Adrian Beyer noted how the email Steinhardt administrators sent to students discussed their namesake’s donations to the school.
“I know the university depends on the donations, so it was interesting to see in the email that there is an economic aspect, being that he was economically really generous with our school,” Beyer said. “I don’t know if I found it uncomfortable, but I was just wondering what is the proper way to address those types of issues.”
When a figure whose name is associated with a university becomes steeped in controversy, it is not uncommon for there to be discussion about removing said name. At Yale University, the name of Calhoun College was changed due to John C. Calhoun’s ties to white supremacy. At Princeton University, students have demanded that Woodrow Wilson’s name be removed from buildings because he was racist, overseeing the segregation of agencies and advocating for the Ku Klux Klan — although Princeton has not met those demands. At NYU, the administration hasn’t taken action despite facing criticism due to Elmer Holmes Bobst Library being named after an anti-Semite and accused pedophile.
Franklin said that it would be a good move for the university to change the name of Steinhardt in light of these allegations.
“I really think that they should if they actually want to show respect for and solidarity with victims of sexual abuse and harassment,” Franklin said. “It would be a good move to change the name and sends an important message, but it’s definitely not sufficient.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 25, print edition. Email Victor Porcelli and Meghan Maharishi at [email protected]