Education

University of Iowa vision institute yanking Wynn name

Action comes after allegations of sexual misconduct against billionaire

Steve Wynn smiles during a Sept. 8, 2016, news conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Reuters)
Steve Wynn smiles during a Sept. 8, 2016, news conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Reuters)
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IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa is removing Steve Wynn’s name from its Institute for Vision Research following accusations the casino mogul and large UI donor engaged in sexual misconduct.

Billionaire Wynn has denied allegations he harassed and sexually assaulted women for years — first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

But the university nonetheless is removing his name from what it formally titled the UI Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research, according to a Wednesday afternoon news release.

The name change is subject to Board of Regents approval and marks the first time the UI has removed a donor’s name from a building or institute.

“The University of Iowa is committed to ending sexual violence and sexual misconduct and ensuring survivors know they are believed, supported and assisted,” UI President Bruce Harreld said in a statement. “It is incongruous with the university’s values to maintain the Wynn name on our program and building.”

The UI named its institute after Wynn in 2013 following his $25 million donation toward research to cure blindness.

Wynn lost his vision from a rare inherited eye disease and thus became familiar with the university’s work and expertise in vision research.

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According to UI officials, the university naming was a recognition of the gift — and not a condition of the gift. To date, Wynn has given $20 million toward his commitment, “dramatically increasing the institute’s scope of research.”

The university is not planning to return any of the money, according to UI officials.

Brook Jackson, the new vice president of medical affairs for UI Health Care, said the institute is “conducting life-changing research that is critical to so many families suffering from inherited eye disease.”

“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,” Jackson said in a statement.

The institute supports 29 faculty members from eight departments and four colleges who work together toward advancing and treating all forms of genetic blindness — from common conditions like age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma to disorders like retinitis pigmentosa, Stargardt disease, Best disease, Usher syndrome and Leber congenital amaurosis, according to UI officials.

Donor gifts, according to the university, allow it to recruit new faculty, buy state-of-the-art equipment and “focus on eye diseases that government agencies and pharmaceutical companies often consider too rare to pursue.”

“The University of Iowa has been conducting industry-leading research and providing sight-saving patient care for 30 years,” Harreld said in the statement. “The name of the institute has changed but our commitment to finding cures for hereditary blindness is unwavering.”

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

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