Open Letter to the Stevens Committee on the Gianforte Academic Center

To the Committee Members considering the naming of the Gianforte Academic Center:

It is from a position of great concern that I write this letter to you. I was taken by surprise upon receiving President Farvardin’s email about the creation of this committee, as I was unaware that Greg Gianforte is not only a Stevens alumnus, but has made a $20 million dollar donation to the university to aid in the construction of a new academic building: the Gianforte Academic Center.

While I understand and appreciate the depth of Mr. Gianforte’s generosity toward the university, he has proven himself to be a man of a character unfit to have this building (or any other on campus) named in his honor. Furthermore, Mr. Gianforte’s conduct and worldview are wholly incompatible with the values of Stevens Institute of Technology. It is my firm belief that the Gianforte Academic Center, as named, would represent a blight on our history, campus, and institute of technology for the following reasons.

Assault

On May 24th, Greg Gianforte assaulted a reporter for the Guardian by “bodyslamming” him to the ground. This incident of assault occurred the night before the Montana congressional election, in which Mr. Gianforte ran as the Republican candidate. The reason for the assault? The reporter asked Mr. Gianforte about his view on the American Health Care Act, which had just been reviewed by the Congressional Budget Office.

If you have not already, I would encourage you to listen to the audio of the incident and read the first-hand account by Fox News reporters.

Subsequently, Mr. Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault, pled guilty, settled a civil suit with the Guardian reporter, and issued an apology. As punishment for the assault, Mr. Gianforte was sentenced to a six-month deferred sentence, of which he will serve no time in jail, 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management, and a $300 fine. He also won the election for the sole congressional district of Montana.

While Mr. Gianforte’s apology was genuine and he held himself accountable, his conduct is unbecoming of any member of the Stevens community, but especially for an alumnus that is a leader in both the business and political worlds. Further, his conduct makes him unfit to be a role model for the current and future generations of Stevens students. If you choose to name this building the Gianforte Academic Center, the messages it will send to future generations of students are clear. If your wallet is large enough:

  • This institution will disregard your conduct.
  • You can assault people without consequence.

Are these the messages that we want to send to the future generations of science, technology, and business leaders graduating from Stevens Institute of Technology?

Discrimination

Through the Gianforte Family Foundation, the same nonprofit organization by which he made the $20M in donations to Stevens, Greg Gianforte has donated over a million dollars to leading anti-LGBTQ organizations. These organizations include:

  • Alliance Defending Freedom, which created the Day of Truth a “to counter the promotion of the homosexual agenda.”
  • Montana Family Foundation, which opposed revising Montana’s anti-discrimination laws to include homosexuals.
  • Focus on the Family, which put forth an amendment to the constitution of Colorado that would allow organizations to discriminate against homosexuals based on religious belief.
  • New Jersey Family Policy Council, which supports “gay conversion” therapy, a pseudoscience considered harmful by many medical, scientific, and government organizations.
  • Family Research Council, which lobbies against equal rights for LGBTQ people and has been classified as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

To be clear, I’m supportive of Mr. Gianforte donating to whichever causes are consistent with his values. However, my point in enumerating his donations to many organizations that either hinder equality or promote discrimination for LGBTQ people is to demonstrate the inconsistency between the causes that Mr. Gianforte supports and the values of Stevens.

During his campaign for governor of Montana, Mr. Gianforte stated, “discrimination is wrong” when asked if he would sign legislation similar to the anti-LGBTQ legislation in North Carolina. However, two years prior to his gubernatorial run he expressed his concerns about an anti-discrimination ordinance for Bozeman, his hometown, to the mayor and city council. In that email he states that, “homosexual advocates try to argue that businesses are leery of locating to towns that aren’t friendly to homosexuals” and that he “believes the opposite is truer.” To be clear, Mr. Gianforte’s stated position is that businesses are more likely to locate to towns that aren’t friendly to homosexuals.

Are we going to force generations of LGBTQ Stevens students to take classes in a building named after a man who has and continues to actively work toward limiting their equal rights and promoting discriminatory laws because of who they are?

Anti-Science

The Gianforte Family Foundation is also a large donor to the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum, a Young Earth Creationist “museum” that teaches the following to its attendees:

  • There is no scientific proof whatsoever that evolution has ever taken place.
  • The Earth is somewhere between 6,000 and 6,400 years old.
  • Dinosaurs and humans lived during the same period.
  • The dinosaurs died out about 4,300 years ago due to the flood described in the Book of Genesis.

In response to the museum, paleontologist Jack Horner is quoted saying, “It’s not a science museum at all. It’s not a pseudoscience museum. It’s just not science.…There’s nothing scientific about it.”

Additionally, Mr. Gianforte is a climate change denier stating that the “the climate is always changing” and he opposes the EPA’s Clean Power Plan which would drastically reduce CO2 emissions by transitioning the country to renewable energy sources like solar or wind over coal. While it’s my understanding that Montana is particularly dependent on the coal industry, with some 7,000 jobs created by the industry, Mr. Gianforte’s willful ignorance on this issue shows a disregard for environmental science and its implications for the planet over the next several decades.

In both instances, Mr. Gianforte demonstrates a cognitive dissonance when presented with evidence that challenges his pre-existing worldview. As scientists, it is our aim to hypothesize, conduct experiments, analyze the results, and inform our worldview on the basis of those observations. It is our goal to describe phenomena using the best available information. That is the essence of the scientific method, and Mr. Gianforte demonstrates disregard and abandonment of those principles when they challenge his worldview.

Will Stevens, which is so firmly rooted in science and technology, name a building after a person who not only shows disregard for the scientific method but actively works toward disseminating information and policies that are diametrically opposed to the scientific findings? What message will this send to the next generations of scientists graduating from Stevens?

An Inquiry into Values

For the second time in less than a decade, Stevens is making newspaper headlines not for our academic accomplishments but for our scandals. The naming of this building has become a distraction for the students, faculty, administration, and concerned alumni. It is the opinion of this alumnus that any of the issues outlined above, individually, would be grounds to withhold the naming of a building after a person; when considering all of them in conjunction, there is only one reasonable action to take: rename the building.

To move forward with naming the building after Mr. Gianforte, a person whose views and actions are so incompatible with the spirit of the University, calls into direct question the values of Stevens itself. Values are not words that are written on a handbook or website, they are the compass by which we guide ourselves during the most difficult of decisions. We can and should measure the worth of a set of values by our adherence to them when challenged, to do otherwise is to abandon those values altogether.

We live in a time when our most powerful leaders often abandon the core values of our society, and we are in dire need of institutions that uphold their values in the face of adversity. How can we instill those values into the next generation of leaders if our beloved institution does not uphold these values itself?

On Generosity

Left mostly unaddressed in this letter is the issue of the $20M donation made by the Gianforte Family Foundation. We must acknowledge that the donation is not only generous but also very much needed. As a recent graduate, I understand that the facilities are in vital need of expansion and modernization and, as such, I’d like to thank Mr. Gianforte and his family for the commendable donation.

To not acknowledge the Gianforte Family’s considerable donation to the construction of the new facility would be ungrateful and run counter to the values of Stevens that alumni like myself cherish and aim to preserve. It is my opinion that the donation should be acknowledged within the building itself, perhaps in the form of a plaque that reads “This building was made possible by the generosity of the Gianforte Family Foundation.”

Having said that, I believe the cost of naming the academic center after Mr. Gianforte cannot be measured in dollars. That name will forever be cemented into the history of the University, and will always represent the moment Stevens sold its values for a relatively small sum of money (relative to past and potential future contributions).

Final Thoughts

The values of peaceful resolution, equality, and science are ones that I share with the University and are deeply important to me. Naming the academic center after Mr. Gianforte is to, literally and figuratively, cement the name of someone who has assaulted, discriminated, and propagated anti-science into the history of Stevens Institute of Technology.

The naming would represent a symbolic abandoning of values for the University and, as those values are so dear to me, I will be reconsidering my participation as an alumnus if this committee decides it is appropriate to move forward with the Gianforte Academic Center. While that would be a very difficult decision for me, continuing to support an institution that has abandoned its values is in violation of my own values, and my time at Stevens has taught me to uphold my own values, no matter the cost.

I thank you for your consideration.

Brian Donohue, B.S. Computer Science with High Honors, Class of 2011