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When Universities Play the Name Game

Education * Administrators who re-christen buildings in exchange for donations must walk a fine line.

November 10, 2000|DIANE HAITHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What's in a name? When it comes to the names of university buildings, usually a whole lot of money.

A recent flap over the name on a campus concert hall at UCLA brings into sharp focus the value of "naming opportunities" in university fund-raising--and the tightrope the institution walks in using the name game to generate new funding while attempting to maintain historical tradition.

In late October, following an outcry from the public, the press and the heirs of composer Arnold Schoenberg, UCLA reversed its decision to change the name of Schoenberg Hall, a concert auditorium within the Schoenberg Music Building, to Ostin Hall, following a gift of $5 million from DreamWorks record executive Mo Ostin and his wife, Evelyn.

In an Oct. 19 statement, UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale said the decision to rename the auditorium was "based on incomplete and inadequate information" that led the university to believe that the hall had never been formally named after Schoenberg, a former UCLA professor considered among the world's greatest composers.

By then, UCLA had already put up metal letters reading "Ostin Hall" on the wall outside the auditorium. The letters have been removed.

In light of the mix-up, the university is offering the Ostins a chance to back out of the donation. Carnesale confirmed that the Ostins never requested the naming opportunity in return for their gift--it was offered by UCLA. Ostin did not return phone calls asking what he plans to do regarding the donation.

In an interview with The Times, Carnesale said the university may find another naming opportunity for Ostin, but nothing has been decided yet. "It's been made clear to them by me personally that the previous obligation they had is null and void," Carnesale said. "I have made it clear that we screwed up, they are not obligated under those previous terms--but they never said anything about withdrawing the gift."

The name Ostin was only one of a trio of new donor names attached to UCLA arts buildings in the past couple of years. In September, UCLA announced that an extensively renovated visual arts building on the site of the current Dickson Art Center would be named the Edythe and Eli Broad Art Center, to be paid for in part by a $20-million donation from the billionaire philanthropist and his wife. The reconstructed center, designed by Getty Center architect Richard Meier, will maintain only the core of the original building.

And, in late 1999, Glorya Kaufman--wife of the late Donald Kaufman, co-founder with Eli Broad of the home construction and financing firm Kaufman & Broad--donated $18 million to UCLA's School of the Arts and Architecture to help renovate the historic Dance Building, to be named Glorya Kaufman Hall. The same thing goes on at other campuses; on Thursday, UC Irvine announced it will name its School of Arts the Claire Trevor School of Arts in honor of the late actress, following contributions from her and her family of $7.5 million.

The naming of buildings after donors can happen in many ways. In the case of Schoenberg Hall, the name may be purely honorific--given not in response to a donation, but to the composer's contribution to the university. In other cases, the university is trying to fund a new building and seeks a specific amount of money to get the job done. Across town at USC, Paul Blodgett, associate vice president of university advancement, said the vast majority of the private university's buildings are constructed with donated funds, and the names on the buildings reflect that.

At UCLA, the Broads and Kaufman were offered naming opportunities. "We have a number of UCLA artists in our collection, and we liked the idea," said Broad, a noted contemporary art collector whose long list of arts activities includes serving as founding chairman of downtown's Museum of Contemporary Art.

After touring UCLA's Dance Building, Kaufman, a ballroom dancer and longtime supporter of UCLA and other institutions, decided to pledge $100,000 toward improving the place. She laughingly says that the donation slowly spiraled upward to $18 million--and UCLA offered to honor her by putting her name on the structure. "It was a gift of excitement and love," she said.

Trish Jackson, vice president for education at Washington, D.C.'s Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, said universities often encourage donors to accept naming opportunities to encourage other gifts. "I can think of a situation where an [alumna] donor said no, I don't want the attention, but agreed to it when she was told it could leverage her classmates," Jackson said.

At UCLA, the decision on when and why to name--or rename--a building rests with the UC Board of Regents, which makes financial and policy decisions for the nine-campus UC system. In the case of Schoenberg Hall, however, the regents were not consulted, Carnesale acknowledged, because of a misinterpretation of language describing actions taken by the regents in the 1950s.

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