NEW YORK — For many students and faculty members at Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women, Anne Scheiber's surprise bequest of $22 million has drawn one response: It's about time.
After years of watching the men's undergraduate division and the university's graduate schools soak up benefactors' dollars, Stern can take its place among the top educational beneficiaries in the country.
"For all of us this is a wonderful validation of what we're doing here to educate and empower women," said Karen Bacon, dean of Stern.
"In the past, benefactors interested in supporting undergraduate education almost as a knee-jerk reaction have looked to the men's college."
Not Scheiber, a women who lived and died alone in Manhattan — not far from Stern's 34th Street campus — and spent 50 years quietly amassing a fortune built from a $5,000 nest egg.
Scheiber, who lived in a rent-stabilized apartment until she died last January at 101, wrote to Yeshiva president Rabbi Norman Lamm that her career as an auditor at the Internal Revenue Service had been stymied because she was Jewish and a woman. Her highest annual salary: $3,150.
Scheiber's diversified stock portfolio of 140 securities includes such giants as Bristol Myers-Squibb, Coca-Cola, Chrysler and Paramount.
The still-appreciating portfolio will go toward an endowment for scholarships and loans for needy and deserving women in Yeshiva's Albert Einstein School of Medicine and for students in health and social welfare fields at Stern.
Scheiber had no previous connection with the school. Her donation of $22 million is the second largest gift in the university's 109-year history. The estate of Rachel Golding made a $40 million bequest in 1993.
"This woman who singled us out has shown enormous confidence in what we are doing without us having to sell her on it," Bacon said.
The bequest couldn't have come at a better time. Stern College is launching its first capital campaign, and the highly publicized donation is a godsend of a jump start.
Besides the latest bequest, Lamm said several major gifts have recently gone to Stern, including multimillion-dollar donations from Billie Ivri to establish a student center and beit midrash (synagogue), and from the Schottenstein family to acquire a new building to expand a crowded women's dorm.
"We anticipate this campaign for Stern will not only mobilize philanthropy but also position Stern within the university and on a national level," said Dan Forman, vice president of development at Yeshiva.
Forman said the campaign's target is still being set, but will probably be in the range of $25 million to $50 million.
The campaign and the Scheiber donation mark a coming of age for Stern, which for years has played philanthropic second fiddle to the university's graduate and men's divisions. Recent Yeshiva fund-raisers began capitalizing on the fact that a single-sex school can be a lure for many benefactors. Stern College's own board was established for the first time in 1987.
Bacon said the Scheiber gift has awakened the university to Stern's status.
"There is enormous excitement in the classroom among students and faculty, but we have not necessarily had a very substantial public image."
Bacon also points out that as more women — especially Stern alumnae — amass independent fortunes, they will look for women's institutions to support.
With more than 70 percent of Stern's 840 students receiving some form of assistance to pay the annual $17,570 tuition, Scheiber's gift is sorely needed. But as several students and faculty members noted, other areas also need a boost.
Record enrollment for the fifth straight year has packed the small dorm rooms in Brookdale Hall with as many as five women — some on bunk beds. Study halls have been converted into bedrooms, so escaping the crowded rooms for a quiet place to work has become even more difficult. Some lower-level classes are standing-room only, exercise facilities are virtually nonexistent and waiting for an elevator to the building's 20 floors can waste a good evening.
Elisheva Wohlgemuth, a senior political science major, says she has to do most of her research at the New York Public Library. Her friend, a computer science major, "always is frustrated because our computers don't have the programs she needs for her work," she said.
The new Schottenstein Residence Hall at 29th Street and Lexington Avenue will hold about 200 women. But most of those slots will be filled when the school gives up neighborhood apartments that already house 150 women.
Bacon said the board is open to any possibilities that allow the school to grow, whether that means expanding the Midtown facilities or purchasing a new campus.
Students compare their facilities with the men's Washington Heights campus, where 1,100 undergraduates and most of the graduate schools are housed. The women concede that the Midtown location allows women to use Manhattan as a campus, while the men's neighborhood is a center of New York's drug trade.
But they point to inequities in the libraries, computer systems, dorm space and study halls. And while women are provided van service to use the uptown campus' libraries, they don't have access to what has become a major sore point: the Benjamin Gottesman Pool, dedicated in 1991, which includes a 25-meter, five-lane pool, a sauna, steam room, whirlpool and lounge in a 10,000-square-foot building.
"If you compare the two, it's hard to believe. It's like sexism is alive in the '90s," said Ahava Aaron, a junior majoring in advertising and Judaic studies.
That's a shame, she adds, because "There's no better place to learn Torah than at Yeshiva University."