1963 Wharton graduate Stuart Weitzman reflects on philanthropy amid donor backlash over antisemitism

In an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian, 1963 Wharton graduate Stuart Weitzman discussed his career in the fashion industry, time at Penn, philanthropy, and recent campus controversies.

Weitzman is the founder and current chairman emeritus of footwear brand Stuart Weitzman and a longtime donor to the University. His Feb. 27 interview with the DP followed his participation in the Wharton Baker Retailing Center’s Executive Speaker series talk earlier in the day.

Donating to Penn has been a priority for Weitzman, who described the university as his “third child.” His most significant donation was given to PennDesign, which was renamed the Stuart Weitzman School of Design in his honor in 2019. In her speech announcing the school’s renaming, former Penn President Amy Gutmann said the change was to honor Weitzman’s “lifetime of engagement with Penn.”

After the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, major University donors halted future donations to Penn as a result of an alleged insufficient response to antisemitism. Weitzman did not publicly support the resignation of President Magill or consider pulling funding from the University.

“That’s the way I feel about being involved in something that I love, or that I see mistakes in. If I’m not there, I can’t even give an opinion,” Weitzman said. “My thoughts were let’s make it better. If I’m not involved then what influence am I going to have?”

In September, Penn Hillel hosted a Shabbat Together event with Weitzman amid the controversy surrounding the Palestine Writes Literature Festival that was held on Penn’s campus.

Weitzman also discussed his career in the shoemaking industry with the DP, explaining that he initially had a job lined up at Goldman Sachs after graduation and never intended to be a shoemaker. However, he was sketching shoes while at Penn, and was introduced to a friend’s father who was in the shoe industry. Weitzman created a series of sketches for him, which he agreed to buy for twenty dollars each.

“By my senior year, I sold them about $4,000 worth of sketches,” Weitzman told the DP.  “I called up Goldman Sachs and told them I’d like to take a year off.”

A few months later, Weitzman found one of his designs in one of the “most prestigious” American shoe stores and learning that the previous order of his design had sold out.

“It was so exciting. I bet the first time Burt Bacharach heard his song on the radio, he felt like I felt,” Weitzman told the DP.

Following the commercial success of his company, Weitzman told the DP that he moved towards the philanthropic sector. He said his philanthropic journey began when he read “The Diary of Anne Frank” to his daughters. He came across the phrase “No one ever became poor by giving,” and was touched by the sentiment.

“And I thought, Jesus, if a 12-year-old girl hiding in an attic, living on crumbs, about to be killed, can still write that in her diary, as a 12-year-old, darn it, I can live my life that way,” he said.

Since then, Weitzman has actively engaged in philanthropic causes, supporting the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History in Center City with a rumored eight-figure donation, as well as many Penn-related causes.

Weitzman is particularly proud of his contribution to the School of Design.

“We have grown so much in our attendance, and so many people from other countries, that raises the image of the architecture school and Penn in general. I’m glad to be able to help,” he said. “My whole point was you got to be proud of who you are. Everybody should be proud.”

In 2022, the University announced that two additional buildings would be named after Weitzman. The Morgan Building was renovated and renamed Stuart Weitzman Hall. Additionally, a new performing arts theater next to the the Annenberg Center will be named Stuart Weitzman Theatre.

When asked about what made Penn special, Weitzman responded, “My best friends throughout my whole life have been guys I met at Penn,” he said. “And I don’t know that there’s any one thing I can say was worth more to me than those relationships.”