Dear Commons Community,
The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that administrators at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey are re-evaluating their decision to name a new building in honor of Greg Gianforte and his wife, Susan. The Gianfortes have donated more than $20 million to Stevens for the new facility. Gianforte, a supporter of conservative causes in his home state of Montana, became the subject of news headlines a few weeks ago when while running for Congress, he “body slammed” a reporter just days before he was elected to Congress. As per The Chronicle:
“Mr. Gianforte and his wife, Susan, are generous donors to Stevens…giving a combined total of $20 million to the institute for the new facility — the last $10 million of which came in December.
But some alumni, students, and faculty members have expressed outrage at the school’s decision to honor Mr. Gianforte with a building name, saying it contradicts the university’s commitment to scientific inquiry and inclusivity. Tensions have only escalated in light of the body-slamming incident (for which Mr. Gianforte has apologized), prompting Stevens administrators to “seriously deliberate” over the development and its ramifications for the donation.
Mr. Gianforte ran as the Republican candidate for Montana’s single seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the special election held last month. A wealthy technology entrepreneur, he has in the past lobbied against a local ordinance in Montana that protects people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community against discrimination in housing and employment, and his family’s foundation has donated extensively to anti-LGBT rights, anti-abortion, creationist, and climate-change skeptic organizations, several news outlets have reported.
A petition started by three recent Stevens alumni cites those gifts and actions in denouncing the decision to name the new center after Mr. Gianforte. The petition has been circulating on Change.org for about two months and has garnered more than 500 signatures….
The institute’s president, Nariman Farvardin, defended the acceptance of the donation in an April 4 statement that was circulated among faculty members.
“The Gianforte Family Foundation’s gift of $20 million — the largest single gift in our 147-year history — supports a building that addresses the University’s most urgent and highest priority infrastructure need,” Farvardin wrote. Mr. Farvardin also noted that Mr. Gianforte did not attach any specific political or religious agenda to his donation, and reaffirmed the campus’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
But while the campus’s position on the name has not changed, the administration’s resolve may have been at least somewhat shaken. Top administrators met on Monday with the student body president, the Faculty Senate chair, and other officials to discuss the naming issue. Mr. Steinmann said after the meeting that he was confident the university would re-evaluate its decision, if not immediately this summer, then certainly in the fall. “There’s no doubt that will happen,” he said.
Edward Stukane, a campus spokesman, said the university is collecting feedback from alumni. For all those who express opinions opposing Mr. Gianforte, Mr. Stukane said, there have also been alumni who express support for the newly elected congressman. “We are deliberating seriously,” he said.”
We will see but I do not believe that the Stevens administration will back-peddle on this gift.