In February 2018, the University announced that it would rename Wynn Commons and rescind former Penn trustee Steve Wynn and Bill Cosby’s honorary degrees after they were both accused of sexual misconduct. On March 21, similar allegations surfaced against the philanthropist, Wharton graduate, and Penn Hillel building namesake Michael Steinhardt. Six women told ProPublica and the New York Times that Steinhardt made sexual requests to them. He also allegedly made comments to women about their bodies and fertility.
Penn does not technically own the Hillel building and thus isn’t responsible for the naming of it, according to an email Penn spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy sent to The Daily Pennsylvanian. Still, because of Hillel's prevalence on campus and the building's prominent location, the University must respond to these allegations by working with Hillel to remove Steinhardt’s name from the building.
Steinhardt is a major donor to Jewish philanthropic organizations, as well as New York University. John Beckman, an NYU spokesperson, said in an email that the University would be conducting a review into Steinhardt’s interactions with students, faculty, and staff. Penn, however, has not commented on the allegations against Steinhardt. The editorial board of NYU’s student newspaper also called for the renaming of the University’s Graduate school of Education, which was largely funded by Steinhardt.
In the past, Penn has responded to students' concerns with regards to controversial alumni. For example, last year, Penn removed a portrait of former Graduate School of Education Dean Dell Hymes after students put up posters detailing his history of alleged sexual harassment. In March of 2018, the Penn administration sent an email, calling for suggestions on how to improve procedures around sexual harassment.
"Creating a campus free of sexual violence and sexual harassment is one of Penn's highest priorities," the email read.
The administration’s silence on Steinhardt undermines its commitment to creating a campus free of sexual violence and harassment.
"Currently, Penn Hillel is not receiving funds from the Steinhardt Foundation or family, and there are no plans currently for future solicitation," Campus Rabbi and Penn Hillel Executive Director Michael Uram wrote in a statement to the DP.
While it is encouraging that Penn Hillel is not planning on soliciting money from Steinhardt, the University must take action by coordinating with Hillel to remove Steinhardt’s name from the building.
“Institutions in the Jewish world have long known about his behavior, and they have looked the other way,” Sheila Katz, a vice president at Hillel International, told the New York Times. “No one was surprised when I shared that this happened.”
Penn’s revocation of Cosby and Wynn’s honorary degrees, as well as the renaming of “Wynn Commons,” set an important precedent for the University. The fact that the administration has not released a statement or taken steps to respond to the allegations against Steinhardt discounts the progress made last year.
In her letter announcing the decision to rescind Cosby and Wynn’s honorary degrees and rename “Wynn Commons,” Penn President Amy Gutmann wrote that, as “a University, we have always been, and will always continue to be, looked to by our alumni and neighbors, our faculty, and most of all by our students, for moral leadership.”
In the #MeToo era, it is vital that Penn take a stance on sexual misconduct, and uphold its commitment to a campus free of sexual violence.
Editorials represent the majority view of members of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. Editorial Board, which meets regularly to discuss issues relevant to Penn's campus. Participants in these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on related topics.
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