Opinion: NYU should sever all ties with Michael Steinhardt
The board of trustees must change the name of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development given Steinhardt’s proven record as a looter and sexual predator.
December 10, 2021
Michael Steinhardt, billionaire, hedge fund manager and the namesake of the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, was forced to surrender $70 million worth of stolen artifacts by the Manhattan district attorney’s office on Dec. 6. Many of the items were looted from Middle Eastern countries during periods of war and intense conflict, which Steinhardt exploited for personal gain. This decades-long scheme follows multiple sexual harassment accusations against Steinhardt — NYU performed an investigation and continued their association with the disgraced billionaire. Steinhardt’s name must be dropped altogether.
Steinhardt was found to have stolen 180 objects from 11 countries. The Manhattan DA office noted that 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.” One of the artifacts was trafficked by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a damning example of the multiple criminal networks and illegal traffickers that Steinhardt collaborated with in order to loot precious cultural antiquities. He also took advantage of Lebanon’s violent civil war to grow his collection, acquiring a marble statue from a sacred temple in Sidon.
Steinhardt’s illegal quest to grow his fortune — as though being a billionaire wasn’t satisfying enough — reduced dozens of sacred cultural artifacts to mere commodities. Steinhardt has done irreparable damage to the heritage and histories of cultures worldwide. Western academia already has a reputation for cultural imperialism and exploitation, and NYU should be combatting this legacy, not honoring disgraced figures like Michael Steinhardt.
Looting is not Steinhardt’s only offense. In 2019, The New York Times reported that multiple colleagues accused him of sexual harassment, including inappropriate remarks and sexual propositions. Some women reported feeling demeaned by him. Despite these egregious accusations, the board of trustees made a clear statement on the university’s values — or lack thereof — by refusing to change the school’s name after the allegations surfaced. If NYU wants to uphold basic standards of morality and decency as a major academic institution, it must stop enabling sexual predators. The School of Culture, Education, and Human Development received its current name after Steinhardt and his wife donated $10 million to the school. If a large check is all it takes to buy out the board of trustees, then the university has zero moral standing in both academic and cultural spheres.
As of press time, 26 faculty members within the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication of Steinhardt have advocated for a name change in light of the discovery of illegal artifacts. All of them decided to remove the name Steinhardt from their email signatures. The situation has reached a point where members of the institution itself are advocating for a new name. They should be heard.
University organizations, including the undergraduate and graduate student governments at Steinhardt, have called on the board of trustees to take immediate action and change the school’s name. The board of trustees, which has since begun an investigation into Steinhardt’s actions, cannot delay action after years of enabling his abusive and immoral behavior.
Contact Asha Ramachandran at [email protected]