Why We Are Curtailing Our NYU Legacy Family Bequests
The Beck Family is an New York University legacy family. My father went to medical school there and met my mother who had been a science major in Washington Square College. Esther and I met in the newly opened Joe Weinstein Halls in 1965, courted and received four degrees there between us between 1965 and 1970. My late brother, Andy, received his doctorate in the School of Environmental Sciences there. Countless cousins and many still near and dear friends of ours went there as well. I played football on their hapless club football team in the 1960s. We were a dedicated NYU family.
As a family of Jewish immigrants, first from the programs of Russia and then from the Shoah throughout all of Europe, we, and other Jews, felt welcomed and appreciated at once marvelous institution. Because of this education we received there, we were extremely grateful. My father, who had been a successful New York physician made provisions in his estate to be quite generous to NYU in thanks for the opportunities he had as a result of having attended NYU and worked there.
But then, around 2010, things started to change at NYU, as it proclaimed to become more international with campuses around the world, including places where Jews were either banned or not welcome. Then came harassment of students by anti-Israel students giving them eviction notices, followed by faculty members using NYU facilities to participate in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activity and now more recently, the vote of the Graduate Students Union to Boycott Israel. Just two weeks ago, Esther and I visited Joe Weinstein dorms and saw international welcome signs for students from all over the world with flags from many nations. Notably absent were flags from both the US and Israel. We noticed that in another dorm in which we stopped as well.
Shortly before he died in 2014, Dad decided that NYU was heading in a direction that he had once witnessed in Austria in 1939 just before Kristallnacht and before he and his family were lucky enough to get out just footsteps before the Nazi’s came within a few days after my grandfather was hauled into Nazi offices and told he had 24 hours to leave or the family would be deported. Dad asked me to get the lawyer and make a codicil to his will. He had left significant bequests to NYU in honor of all of us who went there and now he was instructing me to break it up into educational grants to institutions where his great grandchildren and their friends could strengthen their Jewish identities and love of both science and Israel. To that end we redirected funds to projects in Israel, Philadelphia and Harrisburg when his great-grandchildren and my grandchildren live. He died in 2014 and now there are programs in all three local communities.
As a result, Esther and I are also reexamining our bequests to NYU and have decided to reroute our estate philanthropy to similar projects, which we have started to do now as well. I wrote to inform NYU of our decision and as one would imagine, I got a notes from the development office and one Jewish official telling me what a happy place NYU was for him and other Jews and then from an untitled official who shared President Hamilton’s most recent statement on the boycott vote. He went on and on about how NYU considers this antithetical to academic integrity and NYU’s values.
But, never did he express any zero tolerance for BDS activities or sanctions for those who engaged in it using NYU’s name and facilities. The statement was pure BS and while condemning the actions holds no one accountable for violating university and legal codes, policies and aspirational standards, The statement had no teeth and the emperor has no clothes.
I informed NYU that there appears now to be an over and covert systemic infection of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism that is being passively condoned with the lack of substantive action. Just as the leadership of the American Studies Association are now being held accountable in court for their BDS actions based on violation of corporate tax-exempt laws, so too must colleges and universities be held accountable for such behaviors by students, faculty and employees where active discrimination based on political agendas and discrimination are jeopardizing institutional compliance with anti-discrimination laws and not-for-profit tax exemption laws.
Certainly alumni should not be feeding the coffers for this kind of activity, giving tacit approval for this as offending students, faculty and employees believe they are simply engaging in academic freedom, freedom of speech and other misguided notions. There are rules and codes that have been established for institutions and associations avoiding taxes and claiming tax exemption and BDS is both a political activity and a discriminatory one based on national origin. Colleges and universities and academic associations are not granted tax-exemption for such purposes.
Shortly before I was asked to leave the Joe Weinstein Dormitories at NYU in 1965 for being several minutes late in escorting my then girlfriend, Esther Sawicki and now my wife with whom I am celebrating 51 years together, I was given a lecture by the professorial resident master at the time on, “the rules are the rules,” and that in the long run what we were experiencing was a transient “puppy love.” In the scheme of life, the infraction was a bump in the road and the professorial wisdom was a much professorial wisdom tends to be…complete BS. But my point is that there were rules and codes and I had broken them and had to leave the doors.
Fast forward to 2016 and the University President publicly announces a seemingly tough stand on behaviors which are “antithetical” to law, policies and standards of the university, but shows no evidence of being applied to an increasing number of offenders at that institution.
In my most recent communication with NYU, I offered, as my gift, to meet with university officials, student and faculty leaders to initiate an institutional review of anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism and to conduct the appropriate training for students, faculty and staff to try to reverse this course. I think the value of that would be far more valuable than any bequest I could make and perhaps once again restore faith in NYU’s commitment to education, diversity and excellence.
Colleges and universities are suppose to be places of learning, growth, research and intellectual development. They portend to be open and accepting societies engaged in bettering the human condition and fostering learning, new knowledge and better understanding. Most colleges and universities have yet to realize that BDS activities has nothing to do with these activities and are rooted in intolerant dreams of genocide and oppression. BDS activities violate all codes of common decency and morality and may, in fact, be violations of charitable and educational tax-exempt and corporate tax codes because they are based in both discriminatory practices and violations of corporate charters for tax exemptions.
There must be accountability and sanctions and alumni should have no part in fueling the delusions of a few morally narcissistic students, faculty and employees who believe they are entitled to violate the law with impunity. Please feel free to like and share this column if you agree and all comments are welcome, even if you don’t agree. I would be happy to dialogue with readers. Thank you.