$20 Million Donation to College Hinges on Changing its Name

College and court ponder what to do when the institution's founder mandated a name be "forever," but financial well-being could depend on changing it.

$20 Million Donation to College Hinges on Changing its Name Photo (cc) by Sean MacEntee

A $20 million donation to the financially troubled Paul Smith’s College in rural upstate New York is in limbo, dependent on whether the college agrees to rename itself, a controversial issue that has landed the matter in court.

Joan Weill, a longtime board member and benefactor to Paul Smith’s College and the wife of Wall Street billionaire and Citigroup creator Sanford I. Weill, will donate $20 million if the school renames itself Joan Weill-Paul Smith’s College, according to The New York Times.

The college, which has about 1,000 undergraduates and is known for its hotel-management and wildlife and forestry programs, was founded in 1937 with money and land donated by Phelps Smith, who required that the college be forever known as Paul Smith’s College of Arts and Sciences, in honor of his father.

Nearly 3,400 people, including students, faculty and alumni of the college, have signed an online petition asking that the current name remain. The petition said that although Weill’s generosity is appreciated, renaming the college is a “brutal mutilation of the institution we know and love.”

Weill, who served on the board of trustees for the college for 19 years, has already donated $10 million to the college and helped raise $30 million from other donors, CNN Money said. The institution’s library and student center are named for her.

Weill’s generosity and the school’s precarious financial situation – the Times reported it operated at a $2 million loss in 2013 – led the college to request that a court release it from the “forever” requirement laid out by Phelps Smith.

The college’s petition said Smith’s “forever” requirement “nearly fatally impedes” the institution’s ability to seek large donations that are necessary for the survival of the college.

State court Judge John T. Ellis considered the college’s request this week, but he didn’t make a ruling, Reuters reports. Ellis requested additional information after he heard arguments. It’s not clear when he will issue a ruling.

Do you think Paul Smith’s College should rename itself to get Weill’s donation? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Krystal Steinmetz
Krystal Steinmetz
A former television and radio reporter, I stay at home with my two young children, run a small craft business and freelance for Money Talks News. I have a BA in journalism ... More

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