Say my Name, Say my Name ...
I ran into the Hyde Park Center(oh, what a romantically non-corporate name !) soaked wet in the rain some evenings ago to attend Dean Kole's Coffee Hour. I'm standing in the middle of the winter garden, oops Rothman Winter Garden, not knowing where to really go. I walk up to a table of students and ask one of them if they knew where the Peter W. May Student Lounge was. He didn't, and asked his friend. They thought it was the lounge across from us, but turns out it was the Andrew M. and Sharon Sadow Alper Student Study. Ah, Study. My bad. I'm looking for Lounge. Right. One of them then said Oh it's the Student Lounge. huh? Turns out there's only one student lounge in the building, and there it was right behind me.
Is it just me, or is this whole trend towards selling naming rights to everything and anything at business schools a bit much? Now, I'm not complaining, just observing. I FULLY recognize and appreciate that we would not have this fantabulous facility without these donations from sponsors, corporate or otherwise. They help offset the increasing costs of providing world-class facilities to the student body and faculty. (unrelated note: do we really need these facilities? i'm a happy-camping-in-the-woods kinda guy, so ... :)
Last week, I read an interview with the Dean where she was asked about a rumor that the name of the school itself was for sale. She said: "If I could take the question and twist it a little bit, if you contrast the size of Chicago GSB's endowment with the endowments of our peer schools, we have one of the smallest endowments. And so, if someone wanted to come in and double our endowment, with a name, I think that for the institution as a whole we would need to entertain that."
Her answer makes perfect sense, from a businesswoman's point of view. However, at some level, I have a philosophical disagreement with the entire concept. Not that it matters a dime to anybody who matters. There used to be a time when streets, parks, public buildings etc were named, when they were, for people who had spent a lifetime doing something deserving of that recognition. I've always considered it one of the ways for us a society to recognize the deserving among us. It is this seeming loss of intent that I bemoan.
When somebody plunks down an insane amount of money to get the naming rights to a school, what are they really paying for? I'm in b-school now, so I'm allowed to say the b-word: Brand ! I can see how it could be cool to have the Chicago Yogi Graduate School of Business. (to make it hipper and increase applicant numbers, I might just shorten it to Yo GSB :) When you put up the money, you've got to get something for it, ya. In this case, it would be an association with (i'd maybe go with usurping of) what is really the work and achievements of generations of faculty and scholars who have come before me. I just think it's wrong for a single person to be able to lay claim to that. Can you imagine - Prof. Eugene Fama wins the Nobel Prize next year and they introduce him as the Distinguished Professor of Economics at the Yogi School of Business. A rose by any name ... ? Me no like this whole name business.
I was talking about this with a classmate during lunch last week, and this is what I'd do - IFF I someday had the money to burn, I would buy up the naming rights for the GSB. I most definitely would. And then I'd elect to retain the name of the school as the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business for posterity. I've never thought about it this way, but it is one of the last 'pure' names left of any b-school. I believe there is greater value in keeping it that way.
Then again, I don't call the shots, the Deans do (that is, until I get my fabulous education in this fabulous building and make boatloads of money). That makes me wonder, isn't the real question to ask: why is it that we send so many students to Wall Street, have hundreds of alums as CEO's and yet have the smallest endowment among our peer schools? But, I digress.