The Big Business of College ‘Naming Opportunities’


Immortality doesn’t come cheap. For $50,000, Chapman University in Orange will put your name on an elevator. For $350,000, you can name the scholarship that puts a USC quarterback through school. Interested in more academic pursuits? A million dollars will get your name on a UCLA professorship.

But that’s still in the bargain-basement range. It took $35 million from the fortune of aerospace company founder Gordon Marshall to persuade USC to name its business school after him. Forty-five million dollars from the Gonda family put their name on UCLA’s Neuroscience and Genetics Research Center.

But they have nothing on furnace company founder Henry Rowan. For his $100 million, Glassboro State College in New Jersey was re-christened Rowan College.

Universities and colleges call them naming opportunities. Hand over the cash and you can get almost anything named for you, from a brick to a scholarship to an entire university.


“You name it, we’ll name it,” said Paul Blodgett, associate vice president for university relations at USC, where a street light goes for $15,000. While contemplating your gift, you can relax at the university on the Allen T. Gilchrist bench. Enjoy it, because it set Mr. Gilchrist back about $12,000.

Because of cuts in government aid in recent years, state schools have adopted a much more aggressive attitude toward fund-raising and are using the same tactics as private universities--including an increased emphasis on naming. In response, the California State University system is developing guidelines for naming the schools within each university as the push to find those huge sums of money becomes more insistent.

“That’s probably the highest level of recognition a university could give someone,” said Harry Gianneschi, vice president for university advancement at Cal State Fullerton. “Buildings come and go, but schools and departments usually stay forever.”

And so does the need to find money.

Universities are the size of giant corporations. But instead of pumping out products that bring profits, universities turn out students who cost them far more than their tuition. To make up this huge shortfall, the business of education becomes the business of fund-raising.

And offering to put a donor’s name on a building, a professorship or a classroom is the biggest reward a university or college can dangle.

“A thank-you note works well for a $50 donation, but for a $50-million donation you’re trying to find something that’s more relevant to that size,” Gianneschi said.

Years of Cultivation Go Into Big Gifts


Multimillion-dollar gifts--tax deductible, of course--are usually the result of years of cultivation and subtle persuasion. “I have never in 25 years had anyone show up and say, ‘I’d like my name on something,’ ” said Jerry Nunnally, Caltech’s vice president for institute relations. “As we say in the business, first the resources, second the interest and third the inclination, because you need all three to make it work.”

The Super Bowl of opportunities is to give your name to an entire university or college. The price has been going up since wealthy English merchant Elihu Yale was persuaded in the early 1700s to send the Collegiate School in New Haven, Conn., several bales of cotton; goods worth 562 pounds, 12 shillings; 417 books; and a portrait of King George I.

A couple of hundred years later, Charles C. Chapman gave $400,000 to found California Christian College, which the Board of Trustees later renamed Chapman College.

Today, there is almost no limit to what can be named. “It depends on the creativity of the development office and the fancy of the donor,” said Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel of the American Council on Education.


Walk through any campus and you will see buildings named after educators--like Reines Hall at UC Irvine for a Nobel Prize winner--or the people who contributed the money to build them--like the Avery House at Caltech, named for Stan Avery, the founder of Avery Dennison Corp., who donated $15 million.

“I would say in most cases it’s important for the individual because this somehow becomes an important statement about their lives,” USC’s Blodgett said.

Paulina June Pollak said the chance to have the library at Cal State Fullerton named after her and her husband helped persuade the couple to donate $1 million. “We have no children,” said the retired English professor, “so it was sort of a way for our names to continue.”

Sometimes splashing someone’s name on a facility can lead to even more money. Lawyer James E. Rogers donated $50 million last year to the College of Law at the University of Arizona. A few days later, the trustees renamed the school in his honor--and in return Rogers more than doubled his gift.


Where a university can really leverage fund-raising is with a new building. Not only does the building itself present a major fund-raising opportunity, but there are halls, classrooms, institutes, rare book rooms, courtyards and centers--all begging for names.

Take the East Asian Library and Study Center that UC Berkeley is planning. For $15 million, you can name the building. For $10 million, you can name the Institute for East Asian Studies inside. The C.V. Starr Library already has gone for $6 million. A seminar room costs $50,000. The building will house centers for Chinese, Korean and Japanese studies and the Department of East Asian Languages, each waiting for someone to plunk down $5 million to $10 million for naming rights.

The university won’t even start construction until it raises the $40-million building cost.

At universities with big-time sports programs, athletic facilities provide myriad opportunities for named fund-raising. USC’s football practice field went for $500,000, the new cafeteria for athletes was named for $1.5 million and the track stadium was named for $2 million.


“You’re always a better fund-raiser when your teams win,” said Don Winston, USC’s senior associate athletic director, who pioneered the idea of finding contributors to endow athletic scholarships.

Harvard, in the midst of its latest fund-raising campaign, is passing out a shopping list of naming opportunities, ranging from $5,000 for a class endowment account to $5 million for the fine arts library. But the Division of Engineering and Applied Science is taken. Bill Gates and Microsoft president Steve Ballmer paid $25 million to name it for their mothers.

A Harvard professorship that cost $2.5 million before the campaign started in 1994 now goes for $3.5 million. That bump in price has caught the eye of Stanford, where such faculty positions go for $2 million to $3 million. “We look at who’s charging what for what,” said Bob Pringle, Stanford’s director of university development.

For what it costs to endow a professorship at Stanford or Harvard, you can get almost an entire college named for you at UC Santa Cruz. College 8, which stresses environmental studies, can be yours for what Chancellor M.R.C. Greenwood called “a substantial multimillion-dollar gift.”


But not all the people who donate money want something named after them, such as the man who gave UC Berkeley $5 million anonymously three years ago with the proviso that the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive never take anyone’s name. That didn’t matter inside the doors, where for $1 million an auditorium became the Gund Theater.

Former UCLA student Joan Palevsky has spent more than $1 million to name faculty chairs and scholarships at her alma mater for friends, relatives and a favorite teacher. “I’ve got plenty of people to honor,” she said. “In another generation people are going to look at these names on buildings and say, ‘Who was that?’ ”


The Price of Fame


Have some spare cash sitting around? Want to be remembered in a substantial way? Here are the price tags to get something--including a faculty chair or scholarship--named for you at a university or college:

Item / Price

Professorship at USC: $750,000

Professorship at UCLA: $1 million


Professorship at Caltech: $2 million

Professorship at Stanford: $2 million to $3 million

Professorship at Harvard: $3.5 million

Senior librarianship at Harvard: $2.5 million


Scholarship at Stanford: $250,000

Position scholarship for the USC football team: $350,000

Park at USC: $100,000

Elevator at Chapman University: $50,000


Street light at USC: $15,000

East Asian Library and Study Center at UC Berkeley: $15 million

Seminar room in the East Asian Library

and Study Center at UC Berkeley: $50,000


A college at UC Santa Cruz: Several million dollars


Source: Times research

Los Angeles Times