A New York state judge has rejected a request from Paul Smith's College to add the name of donor Joan Weill, who with her husband, Sanford Weill, had pledged $20 million to the school, the New York Times reports.
Located in the state's rural Adirondacks region, the private four-year college was established in 1937 through a bequest from Phelps Smith, the son of legendary Adirondacks hotelier and entrepreneur Apollos "Paul" Smith, which stipulated that the college "be forever known" as Paul Smith's College of Arts and Sciences, in honor of his father. According to the Times, the college’s student population of a thousand doubles the population of the area when school is in session.
While the college has argued that the stipulation "nearly fatally impedes the ability of Paul Smith's to seek large gifts from a single donor in order to make the investments it needs to remain viable," Judge John T. Ellis of State Supreme Court in Franklin County ruled that Weill's pledge did not give the college license to violate the provision in its founder’s will enshrining his father's name on the college in perpetuity.
Disputes over naming rights have become more common in recent years and include the transformation of Avery Fisher Hall in New York City into David Geffen Hall and the renaming of the Miami Art Museum as the Jorge M. Pérez Art Museum of Miami-Dade. "This decision is a big, big deal," said Doug White, an adviser to philanthropists and nonprofits who teaches at Columbia University. "It'll help define what the court system thinks of the idea of changing the name of an organization like this."
Several current and former students at the school applauded the decision to deny the name change, but White cautioned that such controversies are likely to become more common. "Philanthropy is becoming de-democratized in the sense that there are more and more large gifts,” he said. "We're treading on fairly fertile ground, and this decision will start the process."