“Naming Rights”: Reworking an Old Fundraising Gimmick

Today’s New York Sun reports that Barnard College aims to raise $20 million by selling on its website the naming rights to a new campus building. Ebay for higher ed. Naming buildings after rich donors is old hat, but corporate sponsorship is still a new idea.

More and more nonprofits are raising money by selling naming rights.  The Washington Post recently reported that an internet casino, Golden Palace.com, paid $650,000 for the right to name after itself a newly-discovered Bolivian monkey (Callicebus aureipalatii –there is no .com in Latin). The Wildlife Conservation Society organized the auction to benefit the national park where the monkey lives.

This trend worries some grant recipients. “Barnard is a sophisticated institution, and needs to be careful that if a corporate name goes on the building, there’s no indication that the corporation is somehow influencing what goes on in the classrooms in those buildings,” says John Lippincott, president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. 

But donors too have reason to worry. Martin Morse Wooster points out in Capital Research Center’s Foundation Watch [page 6] that some colleges play fast-and-loose with “naming opportunities,” “changing the Jones Building to the Jones-Smith Building or placing the ‘Smith Center’ inside the ‘Jones Building’.” Worse, there is the donor who raises money to support the Margaret Thatcher chair of enterprise studies only to see the university name an economist who contributes to Rebuilding Socialist Economies as the first holder of the Thatcher chair.

Conservatives typically complain about this academic practice, but it’s nice to see that sometimes there is a turnabout. I notice that Jonathan Brent is the latest occupant of the Alger Hiss Visiting Professor of History and Literature, an endowed chair at Bard College. As editorial director of the Yale University Press, Brent is responsible for the Annals of Communism, one of the great enterprises in publishing: 19 volumes of published documents (with 10 more forthcoming and more to come) on the history of Soviet Communism. Brent has concluded that Hiss was a Soviet spy.

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