Yale May Revoke Honorary Degree Received by Asbestos Offender
Alumni at Yale University are urging the Ivy League school to revoke the honorary doctorate of a Swiss billionaire whose legacy of asbestos use was responsible for the death of some 2,000 Italian workers.
Graduates of Yale have been eager to express their disgust for Stephan Ernst Schmideheiny, the owner and CEO of a number of asbestos-filled factories in four different Italian towns.
In those factories toiled generations of individuals for whom he had no regard. Despite being aware of its dangers, Schmideheiny allowed asbestos use to continue at these factories, which belonged to Eternit, a corporation specializing in fiber cement products. He received the degree from Yale in 1996, lauded for his contributions in industry and other fields.
In 2014, the Italy-based Asbestos Victims and Relatives Association contacted the school and asked for the honorary degree to be revoked. Yale higher-ups refused.
They made the request because Schmideheiny was sentenced in 2012 to 16 years in prison and was fined $15 billion by an Italian court for his connection to the 2,000 deaths.
They found that the owner (along with Baron Louis de Cartier, the company’s former director and minority shareholder of Eternit Italy) was negligent in protecting employees as well as nearby residents from hazardous asbestos, which can cause serious diseases such as mesothelioma.
Now, about 30 Yale alumni have written to university president Peter Salovey asking him to please “re-evaluate” this degree and to consider revoking it, along with that of comedian Bill Cosby.
The college has not yet replied to the request.
Eternit has a decades-old connection with asbestos use as it was long a main component in their fiber cement products.
During those years, Schmideheiny and others told workers they had no reason for concern, even when working in tight quarters where asbestos dust permeated the floors, walls, and machinery.
As a result, scores of people died, including those who suffered secondhand exposure due to family members who worked at the factories.