The Schwarzman Center at Yale, Schwarzman College, the Schwarzman Scholars program and the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library — the illustrious philanthropist and Wall Street businessman Stephen Schwarzman ’69 has an impressive track record of leaving his name on facilities that have accepted his donations. But, over the weekend, one beneficiary of his multimillion-dollar giving rejected the Schwarzman name.
Amy Sichel, the Abington superintendent of schools, announced in an email to community members on Saturday that Abington Senior High School, Schwarzman’s alma mater, had scrapped plans to rebrand itself Abington Schwarzman High School. In February, Schwarzman donated a record-breaking $25 million to the school.
The decision the reverse the renaming came just four days after the school board voted at a March 27 meeting to rename the school in Schwarzman’s honor. During that four-day period, two community petitions to keep the school’s original name garnered 1,400 and 700 signatures, respectively.
In her email, Sichel wrote that while most of the community did not oppose the name change, she had talked to Schwarzman’s representatives about “concerns raised by a minority in the community.” The school board will vote to reverse the decision at its next meeting.
“[The gift’s purpose is] to help Abington High School be the best it can be and to undertake a critical renovation that will dramatically improve the student experience as well as student preparedness,” Sichel wrote in the email. “The donor’s representatives conveyed that nothing should detract from our important mission and agree that the school’s name should remain as is.”
Sichel and Abington Senior High School Principal Angelo Berrios did not respond to request for comment. A Blackstone representative also did not respond to request for comment Sunday.
In February, Schwarzman donated $25 million to the suburban Pennsylvania high school, the largest-ever gift to a single U.S. public high school. The gift was intended to fund renovations at the school and to facilitate the construction of a new science and technology wing. At the time, Sichel told the News that the new facilities endowed by Schwarzman had not yet been named.
But according to the March 27 school board meeting agenda, Schwarzman agreed to make the $25 million donation to the school in return for “among other things, naming and recognition rights for the Abington Senior High School, to be renamed the Abington Schwarzman High School.” In addition to increasing technology classes — one of Schwarzman’s key requests for the school — the district also agreed to let Schwarzman name other locations within the gym complex after his late track coach and former track teammates, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. As part of the agreement, the school would also notify Schwarzman if naming rights were given to any other donor, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer report.
In an email to the Abington school district community sent a day before Sichel announced the school would not change its name, Abington education officials responded to criticism, arguing that the renaming would not commercialize the school and stressing that curricular decisions had not been delegated to Schwarzman. Sizeable gifts often entail giving up naming rights, and incorporating a donor’s name would be nothing unusual for a college, university or other large organizations, the administrators wrote.
Residents did not get word of the name change until a day before the March 28 school board meeting, according to Abington alum Wendi Teeple. A petition circulated after the renaming announcement also highlighted the lack of transparency surrounding the name change decision, according to Theresa Keenan, who started one of the two petitions.
“No one saw this coming,” Teeple said. “It was presented as a fait accompli.”
Two residents who signed the online petitions objected to Schwarzman’s controversial comments comparing former President Barack Obama’s tax policy to Adolf Hitler’s 1939 invasion of Poland during World War II. Another two criticized Schwarzman’s ties to President Donald Trump, as the Blackstone CEO chaired Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, which disbanded last summer, and remains a close advisor to the president.
Had the decision to rename Abington Senior High School not been reversed, it would have marked the second time Schwarzman imprinted his name on the school. Following a 2004 donation from the business mogul, the district named the school’s new athletic stadium the Stephen A. Schwarzman Stadium.
In 2015, Schwarzman donated $150 million to allow Yale to build a student center named in his honor. The University hopes the Schwarzman Center will become a hub of student life on campus.
University Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor declined to comment.
Hailey Fuchs | firstname.lastname@example.org