Rebecca Smeyne / The New York Times

Cornell turned down the endowment from alum Richard Meier '56 after he was accused of sexually harassing five women.

March 13, 2018

Cornell Refuses Gift from Renowned Architect Alumnus After 5 Women Say He Sexually Harassed Them

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Cornell University will refuse a recent gift from Richard Meier ’56, which would have endowed the chair of the architecture department, after five women accused the renowned architect of sexual harassment, the architecture college dean told The Sun on Tuesday.

In The New York Times, the five women — four of whom used to work for Meier — described episodes of harassment that, in total, span 30 years and include Meier exposing himself to two women, grabbing a woman’s underwear through her dress at a company party and, in the 1980s, forcibly kissing a woman and pulling her onto a bed. He reportedly paid one woman a $150,000 settlement.

Kent Kleinman, dean of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, told The Sun that the college would decline Meier’s January gift to endow the chair of the architecture department, calling the reported behavior “unacceptable.”

Cornell would also cancel a New York City event on March 19 that was scheduled as a celebration of Meier’s gift, Kleinman said.

“I am deeply disturbed to learn of the allegations of sexual misconduct by Richard Meier (B.Arch. ’56), which were reported in an article in today’s New York Times,” Kleinman told The Sun in an email. “As one of our most well-known alumni, Richard Meier has been associated with Cornell University and the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning through his gifts that support students and faculty.”

Kleinman had said in February, before any allegations had been reported, that Meier’s endowment of the chair “consummates a long relationship between the college and one of its most renowned graduates.”

On Tuesday, Kleinman said that other gifts from Meier to the architecture college — including an endowed professorship in 2010 and the establishment of a graduate scholarship last year — are under review.

Because of the sexual harassment allegations made against Richard Meier '56, Cornell will not accept his recent endowment.

Courtesy of Cornell University

Because of the sexual harassment allegations made against Richard Meier ’56, Cornell will not accept his recent endowment.

“We will swiftly explore what additional actions are appropriate” regarding previous gifts, Kleinman said.

Meier, when confronted by The Times with the women’s accounts, said he would take a six-month leave from managing his firm and said he was “deeply troubled and embarrassed by the accounts of several women who were offended by my words and actions.”

“While our recollections may differ, I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by my behavior,” he said in the statement to The Times.

Meier, 83, received a Pritzker Prize — described as “architecture’s Nobel” — in 1984 and has designed the Getty Center in Los Angeles and Weill Hall, which stands along Tower Road on Cornell’s Ithaca campus. He graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cornell in 1956.

Laura Trimble Elbogen, 33, told The Times that Meier invited her to his apartment in 2009 to celebrate her new job as his assistant, where he asked her to undress so he could take her photograph. Elbogen said she declined Meier’s request and left without saying anything in fear of losing her job

Alexis Zamlich, 31, a then-communications assistant at Meier’s firm, Richard Meier & Partners Architect, told The Times that Meier exposed himself to her, the same year, at his apartment, where she was asked to help out with Meier’s collages every Friday.

Zamlich reported this incident to the management and received a $150,000 settlement that required the company to hold sexual harassment training for its employees, including Meier, The Times reported.

Pictured is Stella Lee, right, and Alexis Zamlich, left, two of the women who say they were sexually harassed by Richard Meier ’56. Gabriela Herman / The New York Times

Stella Lee, who joined Meier’s firm in 2000, also recalled Meier exposing himself in front of her “wearing only a blue terry cloth bathrobe that was open in front, exposing his penis,” The Times quoted her as saying.

“I was petrified when I saw that,” Lee said. “I tried to channel my panic by focusing on the work, but over the course of the day he made several inappropriate suggestions of which a colleague had warned me  — that I try taking a sauna in his bathroom, asking if I liked saunas.”

The warnings Lee mentioned came from Lisetta Koe, who was a communications manager for the firm in 2000. Lee said Koe described Meier as “always chasing women, and nothing stopped him” and said she once turned down Meier’s attempt to come on to her.

Judi Shade Monk, 41, accused Meier of playing with her underwear through her dress at an office party two months after she started her job. Monk told The Times that she had received warnings from other people in the company when she first joined and was told to not to stay at the office alone at night.

Carol Vena-Mondt — a furniture designer and the only woman among the five who was not Meier’s employee — said that Meier “forcefully tried to kiss her,” pushed her onto his bed one night in the 1980s and lay on top of her while she told him “no, no, no.”

Vena-Mondt said that Meier had invited her to a dinner party, but that she did not know she would be the only guest. When she tried to leave, following the non consensual kiss, he dragged her by her arm toward his bedroom, she told The Times.

Prof. Andrea Simitch ’79, the first architecture chair who was to bear the title endowed by Meier, did not respond to a request for comment.

Simitch was expected to join Meier at the March 19 event celebrating the gift, which has been cancelled.