[W]hat are we to do about those of dubious stature who procure naming rights to adorn their philanthropies? Teaching my section of [Columbia University’s] Contemporary Western Civilization, I have several times used a classroom designated the J. Ezra Merkin classroom. Philanthropists pay to name everything. Hospitals have named elevators and named water fountains. Mr. Merkin was a hedge fund tycoon who fed funds invested with him into the operations of the swindler Bernard Madoff. Sued by New York State’s Attorney General for (in the words of the New York Times) “deceiving his clients by collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in management fees, when, in fact, he was just funneling money to Mr. Madoff rather than investing it himself,” Merkin agreed to pay a $410 million penalty.

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A Columbia University professor notes one of the few remaining public appearances of Ezra Merkin’s name outside of a courtroom (for background on Merkin, type his name into my search engine).

Ever since his BFF went to prison, Merkin’s life has been an absolute flurry of lawsuits, darling. Plus he had to sell all his Rothkos and stop being president of a synagogue and chair of Yeshiva University’s investment committee and all. He’ll spend the rest of his life in courtrooms. He’s being sued by everybody.

On the other hand, students contemplating contemporary western civilization can gaze up at a name supremely iconic of contemporary western civilization.

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One bit of good news for Merkin: He will be immortalized by Lewis Black.

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