Michael Steinhardt resigns from NYU’s board of trustees

Michael Steinhardt, after whom the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development is named, will step down from his position as an NYU Life Trustee months after an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney found that he possessed 180 stolen antiquities.

Arnav Binaykia, Editor-in-Chief

Michael Steinhardt, hedge fund billionaire and namesake of NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, will resign from the university’s board of trustees, months after he was ​​ordered to surrender stolen antiquities worth $70 million by the Manhattan district attorney.

“I regret that my antiquities collecting has impacted the university and distracted from the important work of the faculty and global community,” Steinhardt wrote in a letter to the board. “As a result, I have decided to step down as a Life Trustee.”

NYU president Andrew Hamilton announced the resignation in an email to members of the Steinhardt school community.

“We extend our appreciation to the Steinhardt family for their longstanding commitment to advancing the university’s interests,” Hamilton said.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who has since been succeeded in office by Alvin Bragg, announced the results of an investigation into Steinhardt’s vast antiquities collection on Dec. 6, 2021, finding that objects had been ​​looted and illegally trafficked from 11 countries by 12 smuggling networks. No criminal charges were brought against him at the time.

“Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artifacts without concern for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold, or the grievous cultural damage he wrought across the globe,” Vance said shortly after the results of the investigation were published. “His pursuit of ‘new’ additions to showcase and sell knew no geographic or moral boundaries, as reflected in the sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, money launderers, and tomb raiders he relied upon to expand his collection.”

Two days after the investigation, the board of trustees said they would initiate an inquiry into Steinhardt’s conduct. The results of the NYU investigation have not been made public. The executive boards of the undergraduate and graduate student governments at Steinhardt had also released a joint statement condemning his actions, calling for the school to be renamed. A group of 26 faculty from the school’s department of Media, Culture, and Communication also published a letter asking for the name of the school to be changed.

In July, Bragg announced that 142 of the stolen antiquities — valued at almost $14 million — were returned to Italy during a repatriation ceremony attended by himself, the consul general of Italy, and other U.S. and Italian officials. One of the items returned during the ceremony was the Ercolano Fresco, which dates back to 50 C.E. The fresco was looted from a villa that was buried in ash by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Steinhardt bought the stolen piece, which is now valued at $1 million, in 1995.

A light blue fresco painting depicts young Hercules with a snake wrapped around his arms, a large bird resting on a blue sphere and a man sitting down against a light blue background.
The Ercolano Fresco, one of the looted artifacts purchased by Steinhardt, was returned to Italy in July. (Image courtesy of Manhattan District Attorney’s office)

“Thieves and so called ‘collectors’ attempted to loot and smuggle these items, to hold them in private collections or to sell them for an ill-gained profit,” said Ricky Patel, Homeland Security Investigations New York agent, at the ceremony. “Those who plunder these artifacts are not only stealing relics of the past, but they are stealing from our future by depriving our children of the chance to appreciate the history and artistry of those who came before them.”

[Read more: Steinhardt student governments call for school to be renamed]

Over the past several years, both student governments have denounced Steinhardt’s conduct, which included sexual harassment allegations against him in 2019. A university investigation during that time found that he had made inappropriate remarks to NYU community members, although NYU decided it would not change the name of the school.

Steinhardt joined the board of trustees in 1995 before becoming a Life Trustee in 2016. ​​In 2001, NYU changed the name of the Steinhardt school from the NYU School of Education after two $10 million donations to the school from Michael Steinhardt and his wife, Judy Steinhardt. Judy Steinhardt is also currently listed as a Life Trustee at NYU.

An NYU spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the nature of the allegations against Michael Steinhardt in 2019. WSN regrets the error.

Contact Arnav Binaykia at [email protected].