Late last month, the University of Winnipeg announced that the Duckworth Centre gym will be named after Dr. David Anderson, former director of physical education and recreation at the school, in conjunction with a $400,000 donation made by his family to the university.
But not everyone on campus is completely pleased with the announcement.
Dr. Allen Mills, politics professor at the U of W, sent out a letter last week to president Lloyd Axworthy, the chair of the board of regents and The Uniter questioning the confluence of money with honour when it comes to how the university awards naming rights.
“Based on reports, these two events (the $400,000 donation and the naming of the gym) were simultaneous and connected,” Mills said in an interview.
“The suspicion will be, unless there’s clarity and transparency, that there’s a connection between donations and the receiving of certain kinds of awards or honorifics or naming rights or whatever ... but in the absence of clarity we simply don’t know.”
Anderson served the U of W for 26 years as director of physical education and recreation. He helped establish the first student-athletic scholarships at the university and was intimately involved in planning and designing the Duckworth Centre.
Due to his substantial contributions to the university, Anderson deserves an entire building named after him, according to Mills, but that shouldn’t stop people from questioning the process by which honours are doled out to individuals.
In his letter, Mills cites the fact that two former U of W presidents have yet to be similarly honoured by the university and asks if there is, in fact, a comprehensive policy on naming rights.
“... If there is not a policy and it’s all catch-as-catch-can or decided by the highest bidder then we encounter the possible anomaly that the financial benefactors seem somehow to jump the queue to the disadvantage not to say the slighting of previous presidents like (Robin) Farqhuar and (Marsha) Hanen,” he wrote.
Jeremy Read, senior executive officer and adviser to Axworthy, points to the “University Asset Naming Policy,” which was approved by the board of regents in 2007 as a comprehensive policy requiring several layers of bureaucratic approval for any naming proposal.
“Ultimately, ... it’s the board (of regents) who approves the naming of any university property,” he said.
The naming policy stipulates the President’s Committee on Asset Naming, chaired by Axworthy and comprised of various administrative representatives as well as one student, grants name recognition for any university property valued at over $25,000.
Once this committee approves the naming of an asset, that approval is subject to ratification by either the university’s board of regents in the case of physical property or the Senate if it is an academic honour, like naming a department.
The committee looks at various general criteria when considering a proposal, including financial contribution, service or achievement.
Additionally, any individual or group can make a proposal.
However, there are no specific stipulations around the balance between honours given for financial reasons versus those given because of service to the university.
Naming proposals are frequently attached as the conditions for large capital donations, Read added, citing the Buhler Centre and the Richardson College for the Environment and Science Complex as two primary examples.
“... You would kind of negotiate the terms of that (naming) with a potential donor, but before you finalize that kind of contribution agreement you go through the asset naming process,” he said, suggesting rejection by the committee in some cases also means the rejection of large sums of money to the university.
In the case of the Buhler Centre, $4 million was donated to the facility by the Bonnie and John Buhler Foundation.
For their part, the Richardson family gave $3.5 million to establish the Science Complex.
The lack of specificity in the asset naming policy can be beneficial to the process, Read argues.
“It’s not every day that someone comes with $25,000, let alone larger amounts of money; ... just in the nature of the beast, there needs to be a little bit of fluidity on that (naming rights) ... so there can be those kind of conversations.”
The asset naming policy was last reviewed by the board of regents in 2009, with no changes made, but it will be back under the microscope this year as part of a broader review of board policy, Read said.
Mills would like to see the policy made more transparent.
“Sixty per cent of the university’s funding comes from the government and in many ways then it is a public institution,” he said.
“Should public facilities be so obviously appropriated by private individuals is really the question, or should there be a more public spirited way of honouring individuals in the community with their names on buildings and so on.”
Published in Volume 67, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 6, 2013)