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August 4, 2007

Brand Naming and University Buildings: Are Corporate Company Names Appropriate?

Coveted items such as cash, big screen TVs and shiny new cars tempt viewers and contestants on CBS' game show "The Price is Right." Perhaps when the show returns this fall for its 36th season with new host Drew Carey, public universities will be the new hot item.

A nationwide naming controversy is in the news this week as Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, health insurance company-of-choice for 1.8 million Iowans and South Dakotans, offered a gift of $15 million to the University of Iowa's College of Public Health - in exchange for renaming the college after Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.

BlueCross.gif Traditionalists say slapping a corporate brand name on schools could undermine the independence of the researchers, and naming buildings after corporations hasn't always gone so well in the past: back in 2005, students and faculty at Boise State University protested when the school introduced Taco Bell Arena as part of a $4 million deal, arguing the fast-food company exploited farm workers.

Terry Burton, a Vancouver-based consultant with a database of over 28,000 naming opportunities and gifts at universities and nonprofits, says "We're close to the tip of the sword for an AT&T School of Business or a Kodak School of Digital Communication."

Very close, Burton... the University of Texas in Austin named two facilities after corporations this year, one of which is the $25 million AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center. The Texas Board of Regents decided, however, it will not rename colleges or academic buildings to avoid any overt commercialization.

Here in Minnesota we have the Cargill Building for Microbial and Plant Genomics.

In The Matchmaker, a play by Thornton Wilder, there is a quote "Money is like manure; it's not worth a thing unless it's spread around encouraging young things to grow."

Using this line of reasoning, corporations apparently see value in attaching their name to a prestigious program - they have a vested interest in seeing a college succeed as the graduates may become their employees.

Right... or they want brand recognition. Or both.

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Posted by Kristin Konchar at August 4, 2007 8:44 AM
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