Name your price: Students, alumni fight donors' plans to rename schools

A pair of major donations spark controversy

Two high-profile donations that required name changes at New York colleges—and the resulting fuss on campus—illustrate the difficulties that schools face when they consider such gifts, Kellie Woodhouse writes for Inside Higher Ed.

Recently, Chandrika and Ranjan Tandon donated $100 million to New York University (NYU), a gift that involved changing the school's name from the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering to the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. However, more than 1,000 students, alumni, and others have signed a petition against the name, and NYU has hosted two open forums in the past two weeks to address criticism. School administrators had braced for potential controversy, given that previous name changes on campus had sparked alumni concerns.

Woodhouse also cites another recent example: Sanford and Joan Weill had pledged to donate $20 million to Paul Smith's College—if the school agreed to change its name to Joan Weill-Paul Smith's College. However, alumni fought the renaming, and a judge eventually blocked the move, noting that the college's founder mandated that the college be "forever known" as Paul Smith's. The Weills have since withdrawn their planned gift.

In some cases, donors have given to an institution in order to preserve an existing name, Woodhouse writes. She cites the 2007 case of University of Wisconsin alumni who donated $85 million to keep the business school's name untouched for decades.

"Any time you change a name of the school … you have to expect some pushback from alumni and students because that' s the name they associate their education with, so it holds a piece of their heart and their loyalty," Debra LaMorte, NYU' s vice president for development, told Inside Higher Ed. But LaMorte says that she works to keep donors focused on the positive aspects of their gifts, because the fuss over a name change usually blows over. "These initial feelings and responses from current students and alumni die down pretty quickly and [will not] be a reason for great concern," she added (Woodhouse, Inside Higher Ed, 10/27).

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