As an expanding and growing school, Stevens Institute of Technology is in need of more space for students, staff, and faculty. The Gianforte Family Charitable Trust pledged $20 million in support of a new academic building. However, this donation was received with mixed emotions. Concerns were raised about the philanthropic record and public statements of Greg Gianforte, Class of 1983. A number of students were upset that a person who pled guilty to misdemeanor assault and whose philanthropic history did not show support of a diverse community was being honored by the school. After a lot of controversy over the naming of the building, in June 2017 the Board of Trustees appointed a Committee to Consider the Naming of the Gianforte Academic Center. The committee consisted of Stevens leaders—faculty, students, alumni, trustees, and staff—and was chaired by alumnus and trustee J. Scott Swensen ’74.
On Sept. 28, a statement of the Board of Trustees Decision on the naming of the Gianforte Academic Center was released. “In light of all the facts and input considered by the Board and following extensive deliberations, the Board has given its full support to changing the name of the academic center from the Gianforte Academic Center to The Gianforte Family Academic Center.” The decision stated that the new name will acknowledge the principal legacy of Gianforte as a successful technology entrepreneur and of his parents, Dale and Frank Gianforte; Frank Gianforte was a mechanical engineer who worked in the aerospace industry.
From the beginning of this discussion, it was made apparent that the donation was contingent on the naming of the building in honor of the Gianforte family. However, the Board’s statement included a discrepancy. The “Work of the Committee” section states, “The Gianforte gift imposed no requirements or restrictions on Stevens’ programs or operations. The only agreement Stevens has made in accepting these gifts is to devote the funds to the building of an academic center and to provide naming recognition.” Yet, the “Board of Trustees Decision” section says “The University does not endorse any political, religious or other personal statements of a donor by accepting a gift or using the name of a person. In this case, the Gianfortes have asked nothing of the University other than that their funds be used to construct the academic center. Their gifts come with no restrictions or requirements which call into question Stevens’ policies or values.” This discrepancy raises the question whether the naming of the building was tied to the donation or not. What is the reason for this contradiction in the same statement?
Despite the reason behind the contradiction, the decision on the naming of the building appears to be final. The decision doesn’t appease the entire Stevens community, so Stevens leaders are focused on bringing the community together. Olivia Schreiber, Stevens Honor Board Chair, stated “As a student who served on the Gianforte Review Committee, I can attest that significant effort was put forth to ensure that all relevant stakeholders were addressed. Students, faculty, alumni, staff, and the greater Hoboken community will all interpret this decision differently, but my hope is that we coalesce, taking our differences with us, and continue to shape Stevens into a university we are proud to represent.” Thomas Daly, President of the Student Government Association, pointed out the controversial time that exists right now. “We live in a political climate that is far more divisive than any of us can remember. People fight one another, even kill innocent people, for what they believe. But we are different. Stevens is different. We are a loving community, dedicated to supporting one another… It is incredibly important now more than ever that we take time to understand those with whom we may not agree.” President Nariman Farvardin also wanted to show that this donation will not change the Stevens campus and how inclusive and diverse it is. “I want to make a commitment on behalf of the entire administration of the University that Stevens will redouble its efforts to ensure that all members of the community feel that Stevens is a welcoming, diverse, and inclusive environment in which academic freedom, freedom of expression, and civil discourse are not only protected but encouraged. Stevens remains deeply committed to these values and to perpetuating a diverse and welcoming environment for all persons in which discrimination is not tolerated. In the coming weeks, we will be seeking input from the community on how to expand upon our initiatives and efforts in support of this commitment.”
The building has been named and construction is underway, but Stevens leaders want to assure students that this doesn’t change anything on campus.