Inside Higher Ed: Well endowed

By Mitch Smith, for Inside Higher Ed

February 6, 2012




For $2,000 (£1,0), a Dixie State College of Utah donor could have been the namesake of a porcelain castle complete with a locking door, a generous supply of off-brand toilet paper and an occasional copy of yesterday’s sports section.

In a brazen effort to raise funds, Dixie State offered naming rights to individual bathroom stalls in a musical theatre company’s planned building. The college wanted to help the troupe – which had moved on campus after being evicted from its previous stage – raise money for a new home somewhere else.

The St George Musical Theater is now out of business, apparently having come up a few urinals short of its fundraising goal. Laugh if you want, but Dixie State isn’t the first cash-hungry college to seek money for bathrooms.

As first reported by Above the Law, Harvard Law School recently opened the Falik Men’s Room. Like tuition, bathrooms seem to cost more in Cambridge. William Falik told Above the Law he’d received the honour – if you want to call it that – after donating $100,000 to his alma mater to create a public interest fellowship in his father’s honour. Falik didn’t respond to messages from Inside Higher Ed seeking comment, but his office voicemail confirmed that his surname is pronounced exactly as it’s spelled. With a gift of that size, Harvard Law’s dean for development and alumni relations Steven Oliveira said he was happy to play along with Falik’s wishes.

“We thought it was kind of tongue in-cheek and we were willing to do it,” Oliveira said.

Not all would-be bathroom benefactors have such open-minded alma maters. The venture capitalist Brad Feld approached the Massachusetts Institute of Technology about 10 years ago offering to endow a bathroom. After a few months of back and forth, he said, MIT officials told him that it would be inappropriate. Feld was shocked, having thought the college would use his proposal as a chance to persuade him to increase his annual giving.

But Feld was vindicated when he paid to name a bathroom after himself in a science building at the University of Colorado at Boulder. John Bennett, director of the university’s Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society, offered Feld a campus restroom for $25,000 after hearing about his rejection at MIT. Feld, who lives in Boulder, agreed immediately. He visits his masterpiece of plumbing every couple of months and occasionally checks in there on foursquare.

Bennett said the building’s seven other bathrooms are still up for sale. So far, there have been no takers.

“It wasn’t something where we sat down and said, ‘Gee, let’s provide naming opportunities for bathrooms’,” Bennett said. “But I’m not the least bit embarrassed if that’s what it takes to support programmes.”

In this age of shrinking budgets, other universities seem to agree.

A University of Pennsylvania donor funded a bathroom renovation (subscription required) in the campus library. His philanthropy had one catch – that the walls be lined with plaques reading, “The relief you are now experiencing is made possible by a gift from Michael Zinman”.

Back in Utah, a couple announced a $20,000 gift last year for the naming rights to two bathrooms – one men’s and one women’s – in a new science building at Utah Valley University.

As for Feld, the proud namesake of a Colorado restroom, the offer to his alma mater stands: “I’d be honoured if MIT was interested.”

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