Critics spy strings in the name game

January 19, 2001

An identity change is sweeping over Canadian business faculties as they continue to name themselves after major benefactors.

About a fifth of the 55 business faculties in the country have either coupled or completely replaced the name of their university with that of a successful businessman.

Concordia University's faculty of commerce and administration, now the John Molson School of Business, is the most recent chameleon, having followed Toronto (Joseph Rotman), Western Ontario (Richard Ivey), York (Seymour Schulich), Manitoba (Israel Asper), Acadia (Fred C. Manning) and other universities.

In the United States, honouring a benefactor this way is a long-standing tradition.

Most of the top-ranking business schools, including Wharton (Pennsylvania), Kellogg (Northwestern), Sloan (MIT), and Fuqua (Duke), have given themselves a name that helps them develop an identity independent from their university.

For the John Molson School, aligning with the Montreal entrepreneur, who died in 1836 but whose descendants still run the famous brewery, will net C$10 million (Pounds 4.5 million).

But critics worry that business faculties may be changing more than their name in the rush to court donors.

"Our major concern is not over the naming," said David Robinson, director of public policy and communications at the Canadian Association of University Teachers, "it's whether buying a name buys influence."

In 1997, the University of Toronto fought criticism that its business faculty's primary benefactor was being overly influential.

The stipulations of a C$15 million deal to rename the school appeared to usurp its commitment to academic freedom. In the deal signed with the Joseph L. Rotman Foundation, the business school promised to meet 26 pages of criteria, including "ongoing support demonstrated by the members of the faculty".

Those stipulations remain, and the foundation has the power to stop the money, which is being parcelled out until 2011.

Mr Robinson's concerns over renaming schools include the research priorities created when private sector donations begin to replace government funding. He said that one would be hard-pressed to find a "Joseph L. Rotman School for the Study of Child Poverty".

Bill Blake, chair of the Canadian Federation of Business School Deans, believes his members have steered clear of having their academic policies influenced by benefactors. Mr Blake said the name-changing recognises what is usually a long-standing relationship between a donor and university.

He said the endowed chairs and new buildings that usually accompanied major donations had helped the schools retain and attract the faculty and doctoral students who had been spilling out to high-paying US business schools.

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