In 1996, Yale awarded Stephan Schmidheiny an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for his work in promoting stewardship for the environment. Many praised Schmidheiny based on his efforts to protect the planet and even referred to him as the Bill Gates of Switzerland.
A verdict received in 2012 changed the public’s perception of this former environmental champion. An Italian criminal court convicted Schmidheiny for his gross negligence, citing an environmental disaster in Italy.
Two of his company’s plants in Italy killed thousands of workers and residents due to prolonged asbestos exposure. Originally sentenced to 16 years, the Appeals Court upheld the original verdict and prolonged his sentence to 18 years.
The Court explained that Schmidheiny was well aware of the risks of asbestos exposure. He participated in misinformation campaigns intended to deceive workers about the dangers, claiming safety if handled properly.
A group of alumni from Yale University continue to request their alma mater revoke the degree from an underserving man, but the school remains firm on their decision. While his actions were criminal, there is no precedent to revoke an honorary degree and because they never have, they won’t start now.
Yale officials have met with the alumni, but so far no progress to report. The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), the largest independent asbestos victims’ organization in the United States, joined their cause and continues to fight with them.
Due to the firm answer from Yale’s administration, the ADAO plans to make the 2,000 lost Italian voices heard when students return in the fall and demand action is done to remove the honor from a killer.
The Yale alumni simply want their alma mater’s commitment to ‘Lux et Veritas,’ or light and truth, to take center stage and make a point of refusing to support a man like Schmidheiny.
Light and truth in the darkness and deception caused by Schmidheiny’s negligence with innocent Italian lives.
Bass, C. (2014). Alumni ask Yale to revoke honorary degree. Yale Alumni Magazine. [Link]
Alumni Petition to the Yale Corporation. (2014). Petition to revoke Stephan Schmidheiny’s doctorate of human letters. [Link]
Reinstein, L. (2014). Yale refuses meeting with the ADAO to discuss revoking Stephan Schmidheniy’s honorary degree. ADAO. [Link]