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Yale Alumni troubled by Yale's refusal to reconsider its honorary degree to Schmidheiny.  Here's the letter we wrote to Yale's alumni magazine, sent in May 6, 2014:

Dear Editors of the Yale Alumni Magazine:

As alumni of Yale, we write to urge that the University shed more light on just how and why it offered an honorary degree in 1996 to Stephan Schmidheiny, the Swiss billionaire.  Though the degree citation praised him as “one of the world’s most environmentally conscious business leaders,” in 2012 this former head of the asbestos-producing company Eternit AG was convicted of negligence in the deaths of some two thousand people in Casale Monferrato, Italy, contaminated for decades by an Eternit asbestos factory.  In the wake of his conviction, and a jail sentence of 16 years (increased to 18 by an appeals court), an Italian asbestos-victim group has pressed the university to revoke its honorary degree to Schmidheiny.  In so doing, they have raised important questions about the decision to award him the degree.  How informed were Yale decision-makers about Eternit’s apparent failure to clean up operations all over the world like the one in Casale Monferrato, and the predictable impacts it would have (given that the long-term effects of asbestos exposure were already well-known by the years 1976-1990 that Mr. Schmidheiny was running Eternit)? How aware was the selection committee of earlier criminal investigations and prosecutions of asbestos exposures from Eternit, which happened in Casale Monferrato in the 1980’s and early 90’s?  How closely was Yale’s decision linked to any donations to university schools or programs?  And what has come to light since 1996, particularly in the trials in Italy, that is relevant to the question of whether Yale should rescind its honorary degree to Stephan Schmidheiny?

We support the asbestos-victim group’s request for a full release of documents pertaining to this decision, as both reasonable and morally compelling.   We also favor the appointment of an independent committee of faculty or others to investigate this matter and to advise the administration about whether or not it should revoke Schmidheiny’s honorary degree. 

Those alumni wishing to sign a petition urging revocation of Schmidheiny’s degree may contact Daniel Berman at danmberman@gmail.com.


Daniel Berman, Yale Class of 1964

John Lipsitz, Yale Class of 1975

Steven Markowitz, Yale Class of 1975

Christopher Sellers, Yale Ph.D. Class of 1992

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