Reprinted from the Quad City Times Feb. 14.
Steve Wynn’s name has no place on any public structure, especially one at University of Iowa. Next week, Iowa Board of Regents should vote to scrub Wynn from a university research facility and, in so doing, stand up for the founding principles of economic and social equality that sit at the core of all public educational systems.
It was big news in 2013 when the Las Vegas casino mogul flew in to Iowa and, with great fanfare, handed $25 million to the university for the facility. In turn, Wynn’s name — and legacy — was emblazoned across the new building’s facade.
All the pomp, all the platitudes and photo ops mean nothing now. Wynn stands accused of using his power, including the ability to hire and fire, to sexually exploit and abuse countless female employees. And that, above all else, matters to the legitimacy of University of Iowa’s mission.
University of Iowa administrators seem to understand this or, at the very least, they recognize a brewing public relations nightmare. They rightly want Wynn’s name removed from the research center. And the Iowa Regents should on Wednesday unanimously ratify the university’s request for removal.
In the past few weeks, the GOP-mega donor has fallen from his perch atop a mountain of political and cultural relevance. A wave of former employees accused Wynn of rampant sexual misconduct. For years, employees allege, young women were pressured — even expected — to provide Wynn with sexual favors. As with most of these arrangements, refusing Wynn’s advances could be the difference between a job and the unemployment line. Wynn denied allegations, but almost immediately resigned from his leadership post in the national Republican Party and his own company.
Wynn’s denial is standard these days in the wake of similar allegations lodged last year at Hollywood star-maker and Democratic golden boy Harvey Weinstein. That’s standard now. And, in a legal sense, he’s been convicted of nothing. But the sheer volume of accusers and the flagrant nature of Wynn’s alleged behavior should bar him from any association with a public institution in Iowa.
Wynn, 71, had no direct connection to Iowa or its universities in 2013. His was an association of personal need. Wynn suffers from hereditary blindness, an ailment research facilities such as University of Iowa’s hope to one day alleviate. And professional critics weren’t always smitten by the prospect of a mega-donor such as Wynn using his bank account to order up specialty research from a public university.
“An endowment gift from a tycoon suffering an obscure disease or condition may sound less like a ringing endorsement of promising research and more like a bequest in the name of wishful thinking,” reported Medical Daily after the 2013 shin-dig.
The Wynn public relations fiasco should be a learning moment for University of Iowa brass. There’s something to be said for legitimate financial and intellectual independence.
But, in the moment and short on cash, it’s entirely understandable why university administrators rolled out the red carpet and grew weak-kneed when Wynn flashed his wallet. Now, like a deposed Roman emperor, Wynn should see the legacy he purchased — at least in Iowa — scrubbed.
The type of abuse of power that scores of women say was standard procedure within Wynn’s Las Vegas empire directly contradicts the very tenets of public education. Wynn, a plutocrat, used his power to bend women to his will. In 1998, he used his influence and an army of lawyers to quash a story about his alleged abuse in the Las Vegas Review-Journal before it ever saw publication, that paper last week reported.
By all accounts, Wynn is a privileged man who has no qualms punching down.
Public education — universities in particular — were designed to quell the historic domination of monied aristocrats. Its primary goal is to arm a populace with the intellectual and financial tools required to self-govern. It is, in a very real sense, an utter rejection of the social Darwinism that Wynn so willingly weaponized.
Wynn’s name doesn’t belong on a state-owned tool shed, let alone a facility of research and higher learning.