Stephen Schwarzman ’69, a major Yale donor and co-founder of the Blackstone Group, has been named an advisor to President-elect Donald Trump on economic policy.
Schwarzman will chair Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, which consists of 16 executives from prominent firms like Walt Disney, JP Morgan, IBM and General Electric.
“Donald comes from the financial services world. I think he tends to pick people who he’s comfortable with,” Schwarzman told CNBC Friday afternoon.
Schwarzman said he personally selected the members of the forum and that Trump “loved them all.”
A Blackstone press release said Trump’s forum is designed to provide input in a “frank, nonbureaucratic and nonpartisan manner” as Trump’s administration works to bring back jobs and “Make America Great Again.”
“This forum brings together CEOs and business leaders who know what it takes to create jobs and drive economic growth,” the press release said. “My administration is committed to drawing on private sector expertise and cutting the government red tape that is holding back our businesses from hiring, innovating and expanding right here in America.”
In May 2015, University President Peter Salovey announced that Schwarzman donated $150 million to renovate Yale’s Commons and Memorial Hall, now named the Schwarzman Center in the billionaire’s honor.
After Schwarzman’s donation, the second-largest single gift in Yale’s history, Salovey told the News that he was “so grateful” for Schwarzman’s “incredible generosity and loyalty to Yale.”
Also a noted philanthropist outside of Yale, Schwarzman has contributed funds to the electoral campaigns of candidates from both major parties, in addition to multimillion-dollar donations to his high school and to the New York Public Library.
During the presidential campaign, Schwarzman declined to indicate which candidate he was supporting. At a gala held the night before the Nov. 8 election in the New York Public Library, Schwarzman invited Steven Mnuchin ’85 as his guest. Then finance chair of Trump’s campaign, Mnuchin is now slated to serve as secretary of the treasury.
“There was no issue of partisanship. [Trump] said ‘I don’t care about that. I don’t care about anything but talent and wisdom and judgment,’” Schwarzman said on CNBC.
In the days since he announced his involvement in Trump’s administration, the renaming of the Commons has come under renewed scrutiny from members of the campus community. Coming on the heels of the release of the final report produced by the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming, Schwarzman’s new affiliation with Trump led some students on the popular Facebook group Overheard at Yale to call for the dining hall’s name to be reconsidered.
However, 19 out of the 24 students interviewed by the News in person expressed ambivalence about the prospect of renaming the dining hall, as well as Schwarzman’s collaboration with the president-elect. Many were even unfamiliar with Schwarzman and the specifics of his role in the Trump administration.
Emily Reimink ’18 said she was neutral because she did not know enough about Schwarzman to form a definitive opinion, and Haleigh Larson ’18 suggested that students should not consider Schwarzman’s actions as representative of the University “just because he gave a donation.”
“It’s not like we’re commemorating him — it’s just that he gave the money, so he gets the name,” Larson said. “It’s kind of out of our hands.”
Instead of critiquing the specific circumstances of Schwarzman’s gift or collaboration with Trump, Njeri Grevious ’17 reserved her judgment for Yale, arguing that the University should not have accepted a donation that could appear to be partisan. She said Yale has no business in political affairs, and regardless of who Yale decides to name a building after, political figures should be counted out.
A majority of students interviewed also agreed that even though the namesake of Commons has changed to reflect Schwarzman’s donation, they still use the original term to refer to the dining hall. Ashna Gupta ’20 said she understands the name change, but prefers to use “Commons,” like most of her peers.
“Commons will always be Commons, it will never be called the Schwarzman Center,” Gupta said.
Two other Yale alumni — energy expert Daniel Yergin ’68 and former Boeing CEO James McNerney ’71 — will serve on the forum.
This post was updated to reflect the version that ran in print on Dec. 5.