Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Corporate College of . . .

July 3, 2007, 6:00 a.m., 7:15 p.m. [addition of photos from Senator Biden, and Senator Clinton events], and 8:25 p.m. [addition of response to attached reader comment, and reference to earlier blog entry, "Greed, Conflicts, Cover-Ups and Corruption"]

Wellmark's College of Public Health

The possibility of Wellmark buying the University of Iowa's College of Public Health came up in an exchange of comments added to a prior blog entry, Nicholas Johnson, "Gambling, Taxes and Cats," July 1, 2007. Today the story has moved from the blogosphere into the mainstream press as the lead story in this morning's Press-Citizen, Brian Morelli, "UI College May Get New Name; May be Named for Wellmark Foundation," July 3, 2007, p. A1.

There are a number of issues and concerns regarding the naming of public buildings in general and academic buildings in particular -- and the possibility of a Wellmark College of Public Health raises almost all of them.

* Should buildings be named for anybody?

* If so, should the naming be limited to ancient scholars, inventors, researchers, creative persons, and so forth -- such as the names that surround one of the buildings on the Pentacrest?

* Or, can the naming include more contemporary such individuals -- but only after they have died?

* And, if so, what about naming them for such individuals while they are still alive?

* Is it appropriate that the names of buildings and colleges be "sold off," in effect, to major donors -- with the symbolic consequence that an academic institution appears to be bestowing its greatest honors on wealth in preference to wisdom?

* If an academic institution is going to offer its programs for sale, should there be any individuals whose money should not be accepted for this purpose -- say, convicted felons, those who have made their money in illegal businesses, or from legal but questionable businesses (e.g., prostitution where legal, gambling, or pornography)? If so, how (and by whom) should these standards be established?

* Is there "a difference that makes a difference" between accepting money from an individual donor for these naming purposes, and accepting it in exchange for a name that includes the donor's corporation (or, as in this case, that corporation's foundation), thus putting the name of a business rather than a person on a building or college?

* If it is acceptable to include a corporate name in the name of an academic building or college, are there additional issues raised when that corporation's mission is in some way, directly or indirectly, related to the college's mission? For example, because corporations have their own training centers and "universities" (I once attended one run by IBM) does it risk confusion in the public mind (similar to the concerns in trademark law) to include a corporate name in the name of a university's college or building when its academic mission is similar to that of the corporation? Is this potential problem exacerbated at a university that includes in its mission "economic development" and the provision of space and other resources for the purpose of spinning off for-profit corporations?

* Does it make it better -- or worse -- that there is a commercial relationship between the corporate donor and the college in question? Does Wellmark's purchase of a UI medical college's name somehow compromise the ability of the University of Iowa to negotiate with Wellmark -- something that's already been a little controversial in the past? Will it prevent, or at least substantially impede, the ability of the University to switch providers sometime in the future, should that be seen to be in the University's best interest?

* What if the corporation's mission is actually antithetical to the mission of the college; e.g., what if the company in question had been, say, Phillip Morris, which contributes to one of the leading public health problems in America, rather than Wellmark, which merely profits from one of the leading public health problems in America? Would that have made a difference? (And there's the related question: Would a "Phillip Morris College of Law" be acceptable, although not a "Phillip Morris College of Public Health"?)

* Finally, when corporate money is accepted in exchange for the naming of buildings or colleges, what is the metric, what is the rate card and how is it calculated, in deciding how much to charge? To the extent the naming constitutes a form of advertising, is the advertising market relevant for these purposes? If so, should the fee charged be an annual payment, rather than a one-time payment, as would normally be the case with advertising?
There is a reason why business spends at least $250 billion a year on advertising -- and, since we are talking about public health, a good deal of which involves advertising for tobacco, alcohol and drugs that is viewed by children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics' report. Advertising works; advertising sells; advertising is an investment that pays returns -- as it will in this case for Wellmark.

Consider what an advertiser gets for naming rights, say, Cellular One's arena in Cedar Rapids (formerly the Five Seasons Center). It's not just its name on a building -- that can be seen for miles around by anyone passing through town. The name is contained in every newspaper ad for a event at the venue. It's on highway signs directing people to the building. It's on the tickets. It's on every piece of stationery.

Wellmark will get the same range of benefits -- and more -- from having its name on a University of Iowa building. And how much more is it worth to gain the reputation and good will of a major university, by association, than just some old conference center?

We've long since decided we're willing to sell off the University's good reputation. If you haven't yet guessed, that troubles me. But accepting the reality of where we are at the moment, shouldn't we at least, as George Bernard Shaw suggested, start "haggling over price"? Don't we have the same obligation to the people of Iowa that we would if we were selling off the state's top soil -- to make sure we get the most for it we possibly can? When we take a lump sum to name a building after a corporation -- forever -- isn't there a great likelihood we're selling out too cheaply?

[There is a related discussion in Nicholas Johnson, "Greed, Conflicts, Cover-Ups and Corruption" in "Conflicts, Cover-Ups and Corruption," June 26, 2007, regarding the challenges confronting our next UI president as she necessarily must balance some of these moral/ethical questions against the fund raising that has been said to be at least one-third of her job. As that blog entry discusses, these potential conflicts go well beyond, of course, those involved in naming buildings and colleges. But in that earlier blog entry I ask,
We've already stopped naming colleges and buildings for scholars and started naming them for donors. Are there any limits? The CEO of Home Depot gave $200 million to the Atlanta museum. Would we, for an equivalent amount, become "The Home Depot University of Iowa"? What if Larry Flynt [publisher of Hustler Magazine] would offer $300 million if we'd change the name to "Flynt University" [or "Hustler University"]? (After all there's a "Stanford University" and a "Duke University" -- named for a guy who made his money from tobacco.) Why not a "Flynt University"? We need his money as much as Barta needs the gambling industry's money.
A comment attached to today's blog entry notes the number of universities -- many quite distinguished -- named for business people who were major donors. This is a useful point, and I appreciate the offering of those examples. The person writing the comment urges no more than an acknowledgment that this names-for-dollars approach is not something new. I agree. However, I would note that:

(a) most of the examples listed -- including the addition of one I earlier noted that is not on the list (Duke; tobacco money) -- are private universities (Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and Stanford). Admittedly, the University of Iowa -- with something like 13 percent of its budget coming from the State of Iowa -- is now "Iowa" in name only, and ever closer year by year, with its rising tuition and outside funding, to becoming a "private university" named for a state. Private universities are, by definition, with the exception of government grants for research, sustained by private tuition and donors. They have no (or few) alternative sources of funding. "Public universities," by contrast, were for the most part -- at least at their inception -- created with the notion of public funding, and free or virtually free tuition, as a public, non-corporate, institution.

(b) My discussion involves 11 paragraphs. That some universities (for the most part private universities) have been named for donors, and that this has been historically common and accepted, relates at most to the first five. It does not address the issues in the final six -- dealing with the naming of colleges, buildings or universities for corporations -- no examples of which are provided in the list in the comment.]
There are undoubtedly other issues involved as well, but this should be a good start on a few morning thoughts about "Wellmark's College of Public Health."

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Other News:

Gartner praises Fethke; Biden impresses Iowa City yesterday; President and Mrs. President-Aspirant Clinton arrive today; over 40% white males have (or have had) alcoholism or serious drinking problem (and Iowa City's City Council and bars are doing their best to increase those numbers; way to go Iowa City); . . .

and I haven't forgotten State29's request for some commentary about the Fairness Doctrine (the subject of Tom Ashbrook's "On Point" (WBUR-AM) this morning, "Conservative Talk Radio").

Michael Gartner, "Fethke Excelled in Interim," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 3, 2007.

Rob Daniel, "Biden: Iraq Solution Lies in Confederation," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 3, 2007.

Shajia Ahmad, "Biden Details Iraq Solution,"
The Daily Iowan, July 3, 2007.

James Q. Lynch, "Biden Counts Off Qualifications in I.C.," The Gazette, July 3, 2007, p. B5; Associated Press, "30 Percent Have Abused Alcohol," The Gazette, July 3, 2007, p. A3 (both available at The Gazette's main Web site).

Here are the photos on my Picasa Web site for the Senator Biden event July 2 (yesterday), and Senator Clinton event today (July 3).

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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story . . .

This blog began in June 2006 and has addressed, and continues to addresses, a number of public policy, political, media, education, economic development, and other issues -- not just the UI presidential search. But that is the subject to which most attention has been focused in blog entries between November 2006 and June 2007.

The presidential search blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006. They end with Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 505 - Next (Now This) Week," June 10, 2007 (100-plus pages printed; a single blog entry for the events of June 10-21 ("Day 516"), plus over 150 attached comments from readers), and Nicholas Johnson, "UI Hostages Free At Last -- Habemas Mamam!," June 22, 2007.

Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.)

For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to FromDC2Iowa.Blogspot.com will take you to the latest. Each entry related to the UI presidential search contains links to the full text of virtually all known, non-repetitive media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006.

My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006.

Searching: the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References." A Blog Index of entries on all subjects since June 2006 is also available. And note that if you know (or can guess at) a word to search on, the "Blogger" bar near the top of your browser has a blank, followed by "SEARCH THIS BLOG," that enables you to search all entries in this Blog since June 2006.]

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DisgustedHawkI said...

This is not about naming a building -- it's about naming a college! Big difference.

As the blogger Sunday noted, this is an utter embarassment.

This organization obviously owns the State and now they are making it quite clear, just days after a botched presidential search that has their fingerprints all over it, that they run the University, too.

Culver should step in and break this up.

In earlier blogs, we warned that the health science faction on the search committee was on the take. Let's stack it up:

Chrischilles: Pomerantz Chair
(Pomerantz = Wellmark)
England: Soon to be an associate VP to Robilard as a part of the WEllmark take-over of the UIHC
Rothman: Soon to be dean of Medicine, once the take-over of UIHC is completed.

NOw, they buy the college of public health. What is absolutely amazing is how little regard they have and how bold they are to do this so soon. Sort of an, "I told you so" to the university, don't you think?

The other piece that is completely shocking is the price tag -- just $15 million? Come on! The Medicine college got $90+ million (not the $63 noted in the paper -- that was after several other gifts) for its name; Business got $30 million. In both cases the gifts were from reputable citizens. In this case Merchant has prostituted his college for a mere $15 million.

Oh, and of course you know Merchant used to be on the Wellmark board.

Anonymous said...

I have absolutely no argument with any of the excellent points that Nick Johnson makes and questions he raises. Just to insure some historical perspective, however, remember that many of our most august institutions of higher education are named after donors, starting from the beginning of higher education in America. That doesn't make it "right," but remember that it's an old, not a new, phenomenon:

Harvard--John Harvard, who provided the first substantial means (money and books) to create the university (then college)

Yale--Elihu Yale, East India Trading Company representative

Dartmouth--William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, early benefactor

Stanford--Leland Stanford, railroad magnate and governor of California

Purdue--John Purdue, industrialist

Rutgers--Colonel Henry Rutgers (though his donation did come AFTER the school was named)

Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania--Joseph Wharton, merchant and industrialist

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Anonymous said...

Can't help but add some precision to Anonymous' post:

Stanford was not named for Leland Sr. It was named for their son, Leland Jr. who passed away at a young age leaving grief-stricken parents (it's "Leland Stanford Jr. University").

They tried to give money to Harvard to endow a college there, but Harvard wouldn't take it. So, they built their own college in California.

I can't speak for the others (Wharton, Dartmouth), but thought I'd set the record straight.

Also, while it is common to name after individual donors, a corporate name is a different bird. In this case, it is suspicious because Wellmark has a long history of destructive meddling in the University's affairs.

Anonymous II