UI business school renaming leads to concern about donor influence

UI business school renaming leads to concern about donor influence

URBANA — Names are a big deal when you're a nationally ranked College of Business — or when you're the first college at the University of Illinois to add a donor's name to your title.

A plan to name the UI College of Business after one of its illustrious alumni, financier Larry Gies — who with his wife donated a record $150 million to the school last month — ran into some trouble in the campus Academic Senate on Monday.

While lauding the historic gift, senators complained that administrators failed to follow established procedures for changing the name of a college.

And, given that engineering and other colleges are likely to follow suit during the UI's new $2.5 billion fundraising campaign, professors wanted assurances that donors wouldn't have a say in faculty hiring or other academic decisions.

The proposal for the new name — Gies College of Business — was eventually endorsed in a lopsided vote, but only after an amendment was added saying the vote would not serve as a precedent for renaming other colleges.

Approval of the name was already on the UI Board of Trustees' agenda for Thursday.

"The senate should have a say," said Shawn Gilmore, who heads the senate's University Statues and Senate Procedures Committee.

He said senators share enthusiasm about the educational potential of the Gieses' gift, "as well as some awe at its size." But there were "procedural irregularities," and the issue is likely to arise again.

The change was approved by the senate's Educational Policy Committee on Nov. 6 — more than a week after it had been publicly announced by the college.

The website, promotional materials and social media for the college already sport the new name.

"It took a bit of wrangling to get this particular item on the floor of the senate" by Monday, Gilmore said.

Senate rules and UI statutes require a vote by the faculty within the unit and a vote of the senate before renaming a college, senators said. The process doesn't have to take a long time, and it was clear this one would sail through, they said.

But there could be cases where a name change would be more controversial — say, the Hugh Hefner College of Media, said UI student Rahul Raju.

Administrators said they consulted with UI lawyers and determined that they only needed to follow the Campus Administrative Manual's rules for naming a college, which requires senate advice, not approval. Chancellor Robert Jones submitted a "request for advice" from the senate.

'Completely unrestricted'

"This is a naming of the college, not a renaming," College of Business Dean Jeffrey Brown said after the meeting, arguing that the senate's procedures apply to cases where a college is changing its name to shift its academic focus.

"We've never had this kind of a naming before. We're still the College of Business. We're just now the Gies College of Business. This is unprecedented territory, which is why we took efforts to vet it through the legal counsel. We feel very confident that we followed an appropriate process."

Faculty also raised concerns about the influence of major donors on colleges' operations. They cited cases at other schools, including Yale University, where a $20 million donation had to be returned because the donor tried to select faculty members.

"This gift is completely unrestricted in its use," Brown responded. "There's nothing in the gift agreement that provides the donor any right to have a say on anything. We would certainly never allow a donor in our college to influence faculty hiring decisions, admissions decisions, anything of that nature.

"We're part of this university, too," Brown said, noting he's been on the faculty for 15 years. The college's executive committee approved the name change.

Brown said the money will go toward student scholarships, and the rest will be used to support student programs or faculty hiring, with appropriate faculty input on the decisions.

Campus administrators said gift agreements with individual donors clearly lay out terms for how the money will be used and who makes those decisions.

"We take those things seriously," said interim Provost John Wilkin.

But several faculty members said the campus needs a policy or general principles spelling that out.

"If we don't have a written policy to show to donors, that's a concern," said history Professor Mark Steinberg.

The senate raised similar concerns with the naming of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine in 2015 — though administrators said it is likely to be renamed for a donor, as are other UI colleges.

'Transformative power'

Professors from the College of Business pointed out that Gies has been an adjunct business professor for years, winning rave reviews from students, and wanted his gift to focus on improving access for students of limited financial means. Finance Professor Scott Weisbenner said he was moved by Gies' story of being inspired by an intern who told him he wanted to go to the UI but couldn't afford it.

"Larry has made his wealth by investing and improving companies whose objective is to improve societal welfare," Weisbenner said. "How exciting that he wants to put his $150 million to use" at the UI.

"This is about helping students," added student senator Arya Jhaveri, a business major. "It's not about semantics.

"This is a very simple issue. We've had a very generous gift, a gift that is going to bring education to people who couldn't afford it and bring in more professors."

Adjunct business Professor Don Davis said he attended a student event in Chicago last week and noticed "newfound respect" because of the Gies name on the business college.

Nationally, most top business schools carry a private name — the Kellogg School at Northwestern, the Booth School at the University of Chicago, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Brown said. It offers a unique identity.

"Especially among business schools, it says something," he said. "It says that there is a very successful business person who believed in your vision enough to put this kind of money behind it."

Brown said Gies forwarded a note from another donor who was so inspired by his gift that he made a donation to the new medical school. Other donors have also increased their gifts since the announcement, he said.

"I think everybody understands the transformative power of the gift and what it means," he said.

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Lostinspace wrote on November 14, 2017 at 2:11 pm

Money? Influence? Nah...

An equally important issue: what are the fundraiding priorities? Where I worked, the trustees' priorities kept floating to the top of the list.  Others, usually having to do with (gasp!) education, never got near the top of the list.


By the way, *three* captchas?  Why?

aantulov wrote on November 14, 2017 at 3:11 pm

Still like to know how Carle's Cayman Island finances are getting a dime of public money for this supposed "med school."

cjw61822@hotmail.com wrote on November 14, 2017 at 4:11 pm

He made his money when other people lost money  ( thats how the stock market works) there are winners and losers... He earned his money due to "white privilage"  we cannot have that at the U of  I.......................


So the esteem faculty has no problem taking money for sports arenas but they have a problem with this?  Hypocritical at best.. stand tall SJW   against big money.  stand tall.