Stephen Schwarzman ’69 has been actively communicating his broader vision for the Schwarzman Center to University leaders since donating $150 million to Yale in May 2015, though he has been publicly uninvolved in the project’s details.
While he has remained in close contact with senior administrators since his historic donation, Schwarzman has not taken a hands-on approach to the center’s planning. Nor did he directly engage with the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee, a group of students, faculty and administrators who released a report of recommendations for the center in February. During meetings with University President Peter Salovey, Senior Counselor to the President and Provost Linda Lorimer and other high-ranking administrators, as well as representatives from the architecture firm working on the project, Schwarzman has underscored his vision for a central student center, he told the News. He has also emphasized the importance of engaging those across campus in creative ways, through events such as a February Thinkathon and other listening sessions with the Yale community. Still, Schwarzman told the News in February that while he will speak out against ideas for the center he disagrees with, it is ultimately not his job to manage the project.
“I usually make my voice heard, if there is something going on that seems illogical or could be accomplished in a more expeditious way,” Schwarzman said. “But Yale is the driver of the project.”
Salovey said Schwarzman interacts with him and others “regularly” in person to plan the center.
Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor emphasized that Schwarzman is known for closely monitoring his philanthropic projects. Just this semester, she said, Schwarzman has met with Salovey a few times to discuss the center. Schwarzman’s other prominent donations include a $100 million gift to the New York Public Library in 2008, and the establishment of the Schwarzman Scholars fellowship, which will welcome its inaugural class this year.
“He has been very involved in the planning,” O’Connor said. “He’s not a person who writes a check and walks away.”
Still, Salovey said Schwarzman understands that the University will make the final decisions regarding construction and programming.
Elizabeth Leber, a partner at Beyer Blinder Belle — the architecture firm selected to design the Schwarzman Center — spoke positively of the firm’s interactions with Schwarzman.
“Our work relationship with Mr. Schwarzman is proactive and very helpful to the process. He and the advisors who he has brought to the project have been engaged on a regular basis through meetings and conference calls,” she said.
Dean of Student Engagement Burgwell Howard said the key vision for the center stems from Schwarzman’s understanding of the space as one where students can come together. The advisory committee and the architect are trying to bring this feeling into reality, Howard said.
Five of 12 undergraduate, graduate and professional students on the advisory committee interviewed said they have not personally interacted with Schwarzman or seen him at any of the committee meetings.
“I think he simply wants to help create a center for all Yale students that can be a hub for intellectual, artistic and creative activity on campus. How that is ultimately realized has largely been left up to the Yale community,” said Skyler Ross ’16, who sits on the advisory committee.
Ross added that Schwarzman did not need to be physically present for the committee to fulfill its mission of gathering student input and providing recommendations on planning.
Ree Ree Li ’16, who also serves on the committee, said because the group did not work closely with Schwarzman, its members had the freedom to think creatively and were not limited to one person’s ideas.
“He tends to want most things to be ‘excellent,’ and this project is no exception, and the only measure of its excellence will be how well it serves Yale students,” said Daniel Leibovic ’17, a representative on the committee. “He is allowing Yale to handle the project independently.”
Schwarzman has a net worth of $10.7 billion, according to Forbes.