Service of What’s in a Name
November 2nd, 2015
Categories: Bequests, College, Name, Uncategorized, Wills
You may have read that a state judge ruled that Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks could not change or alter its name to Joan Weill-Paul Smith’s College. The 1,000 student private college hoped to overturn a 1937 bequest by the son of Paul Smith which stipulated that the college would “be ever known” as Paul Smith’s College of Arts and Sciences. Mrs. Weill, the wife of financier Sanford Weill, was planning to pledge $20 million to secure the name change. She knew about the college because she’d owned a home nearby.
“While the college has argued that the stipulation ‘nearly fatally impedes the ability of Paul Smith’s to seek large gifts from a single donor in order to make the investments it needs to remain viable,’ Judge John T. Ellis of State Supreme Court in Franklin County ruled that Weill’s pledge did not give the college license to violate the provision in its founder’s will enshrining his father’s name on the college in perpetuity,” according to Philanthropy News Digest.
“Disputes over naming rights have become more common in recent years and include the transformation of Avery Fisher Hall in New York City into David Geffen Hall and the renaming of the Miami Art Museum as the Jorge M. Pérez Art Museum of Miami-Dade. ‘This decision is a big, big deal,’ said Doug White, an adviser to philanthropists and nonprofits who teaches at Columbia University. ‘It’ll help define what the court system thinks of the idea of changing the name of an organization like this.’”
According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, this year only nine of the top 100 gifts from Americans have been anonymous so Mrs. Weill is in good company. Anonymity, wrote Lorne Manly in “Privacy Matters” in The New York Times, is the choice of those who don’t want to be bothered by others looking for support, don’t like publicity or who believe, as did Maimonides, that such obscurity is a good thing–sixth in the eight levels of giving.
I wrote in an earlier post that promoting a high profile person who gives a large donation helps draw in additional money far better these days than a heart-wrenching story. For this reason, do you believe that the law should be changed to help a small institution like Paul Smith’s modify its name? If your college had a new name, would you care? Is holding to some 78 year old bequest ridiculous? If you were Mrs. Weill would you give the money even if the college can’t modify its name?