University of Iowa pulling Wynn name following sex assault accusations

University doesn't plan to return any of his donation to eye institute

(File photo) The audience applauds Steven Dezii (left) and Stephen Wynn at a commemoration ceremony for the naming of the University of Iowa Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research and the Steven W. Dezii Translational Vision Research Facility on Friday, October, 18, 2013 in Iowa City, Iowa.
(File photo) The audience applauds Steven Dezii (left) and Stephen Wynn at a commemoration ceremony for the naming of the University of Iowa Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research and the Steven W. Dezii Translational Vision Research Facility on Friday, October, 18, 2013 in Iowa City, Iowa.

IOWA CITY — Marking the first time the University of Iowa has scrubbed reference to a donor from a namesake project, it will erase the name of casino mogul Stephen A. Wynn from its Institute for Vision Research after reports last week that the billionaire harassed and assaulted women for years.

Wynn, 76, has denied the allegations uncovered by a Wall Street Journal investigation. Nonetheless, he later resigned as finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Wednesday, the UI announced it will drop the name from what it originally christened the UI Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research.

The university named the institute after Wynn in 2013 following his $25 million commitment toward research for curing blindness. Wynn had lost his vision from a rare inherited eye disease, and became familiar with the UI’s work in that field.

Naming the institute in honor of him was a recognition of his gift — and not a condition of it, according to UI officials. They do not plan to return any of the money.

To date, Wynn has given $20 million toward his commitment to the UI.

“Mr. Wynn’s stated intent when committing the gift was to further the institute’s research to prevent and cure blinding eye disease,” UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said. “We have honored and continue to honor the gift intent.”

The UI move comes at a moment of national reckoning over sexual violence and misconduct — fueled by the #metoo movement that weekly, if not daily, has victims speaking out about past and persisting improper behavior across the political, media and entertainment spectrum.

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In response to calls on the GOP to return Wynn’s political contributions, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel this week said the group will do so if allegations against Wynn prove true, according to multiple media outlets.

Other recipients of Wynn’s generosity are grappling with how to respond to the accusations. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wynn Commons was defaced in the wake of the newspaper’s report, according to The Philly Voice. In Massachusetts, questions have emerged about what to do with the “Wynn Boston Harbor” casino under construction.

The issue is compounded for universities and colleges nationally that for years have been combating campus cultures that enable sexual violence and misconduct.

UI President Bruce Harreld, in a statement Wednesday, made reference to progress the university has made on that front and said the campus remains “committed to ending sexual violence and sexual misconduct and ensuring survivors know they are believed, supported, and assisted.”

“It is incongruous with the university’s values to maintain the Wynn name on our program and building,” he said in the statement.

A spokesman for the Board of Regents declined to comment about the UI decision to pull the Wynn name but keep his donations, saying the board will have an opportunity to make a statement when the issue comes before it in February. The board must sign off on the UI’s decision.

Work at the vision institute is “life-changing” and “critical to so many families suffering from inherited eye disease,” said a statement from Brooks Jackson, vice president for medical affairs at UI Health Care.

“This decision reinforces our commitment to the long-term health of the institute in terms of faculty and staff recruitment and retention and future philanthropic support,” he said.

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The institute supports 29 faculty members from eight departments and four colleges working together toward treatments for all forms of genetic blindness — from common conditions like macular degeneration and glaucoma to disorders like retinitis pigmentosa, Stargardt disease, Best disease, Usher syndrome and Leber congenital amaurosis.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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