It is a case of mis-taken identity.
New York University robbed engineering students of a prestigious name on their degrees when it renamed Downtown’s 161-year-old Polytechnic School of Engineering in honor of a generous donor earlier this month, say pupils and alumni who are now demanding the school change it back.
“I chose to go to Poly partly because of the prestige and recognition attached to its name,” said Jeffrey Nichtberger on an online petition calling on the university reverse its decision to re-brand Polytechnic as the New York University Tandon School of Engineering, which has racked up more than 1,200 digital signatures in the two weeks since the change. “I want my diploma to say Polytechnic, not Tandon.”
The school abruptly announced the switch on Oct. 5, following a $100-million gift from financial advisor and singer Chandrika Tandon, who serves on the institution’s board of trustees, and her husband Ranjan, a hedge fund manager.
Students say they appreciate the recent windfall, they just don’t think the second oldest engineering school in the country — which has gone through multiple names since opening in 1854, but all involving the word “Polytechnic” — should have to walk away from its famed moniker to get it.
“I don’t want to sound like an ingrate — $100 million is a lot of money — but I don’t understand why the Poly name has to go,” said Eric Naturman, an undergraduate student. “It just feels like one of those things that will be looked back on as a mistake.”
The Tandon’s gift is not the largest in the school’s history — former Polytechnic professor Donald Othmer and his wife Mildred bequeathed the school $175 million when they passed away in the 1990s. The university named a dormitory after them.
But some scholars say the new name was worth the price — and they don’t mind explaining they studied at the school formerly known as Polytechnic to future employers.
“You can’t get something for nothing,” said undergraduate Prakesh Najalani. “It’s just a name. All you have to do is explain, ‘Oh, it used to be Poly.” For $100 million? That’s a no-brainer.”
The university says it understands critics’ concerns about the new moniker, but claims the student body at large is thrilled about the cash injection that came along with it and that it will find other ways to honor the school’s history.
“The overwhelming reaction to this great gift is enormous excitement,” said spokeswoman Sayar Lonial. “We have heard some concerns, and know that they arise out of love and loyalty.”