Originally published Dec. 5, 2013
Names are intimate things. They belong to individuals to distinguish them from outsiders, and the extension of personal names to encompass other things suggests ownership of or affiliation with those other things.
So when private names extend to encompass public property, it concerns us.
At Grand Valley State University, it’s hard to be ignorant of the people and companies who “sponsor” our education. The names are plastered everywhere. From the DTE Energy Innovation Zone to the Mary Idema Pew Library, you know exactly who is behind our learning efforts.
It may not be accurate to describe the naming as a “sale,” but what else do you call an exchange of money for a good or service? GVSU is selling out. And what precedent is the sale of our buildings setting?
During a comedy-based fundraiser this year, GVSU alumnus and Ionia Mayor Dan Balice joked that his donations earned him a urinal in his name, and the university is still offering urinals to future donors.
But to what extent is he kidding? Because the rate at which these signs are appearing begs the question: What’s next? Will we turn Lake Huron 133 into the “Amway Lecture Hall?” Will the backs of our chairs have plaques dedicated to the lower-level donors?
We’re compromising the tradition of academic purity — the integrity of our educational efforts — for a quick buck. It’s time that we stop prostituting ourselves to corporate sponsors and reserve the eternal respect of namesakes for figures who significantly contributed to our educational endeavors.
Why elevate our local corporations — however heroic they may be — to stand at the side of William James and Alexander Calder, after whom we have named campus elements? It just doesn’t feel right.
It’s not that we don’t wish to be associated with these corporations. Many of them have greatly contributed to West Michigan and are exemplary figures of community involvement.
And this isn’t to detract from the generosity of donors. We in no way wish to appear ungrateful. Certainly, without their contributions, we would not be living as comfortably with the futuristic library and business building, and we probably wouldn’t be managing a reasonable university budget.
Donors: we want to be clear that we are extremely appreciative of your contributions. We just don’t approve of the way that GVSU responds to them.
We trust that you would have donated without the expectation of shiny signage in a well-trafficked part of campus (also known as advertising). And we disapprove of the university offering this sort of honor to prominent social figures other than MLK or Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
For the record, GVSU, we chose to attend a public university for a public education — one unadulterated by, unattached to and free of ownership by private businesses with personal agendas. For now, we’ll trust that you’re issuing a sense of integrity when “selling” our educational buildings.
But the minute we see T. Haas in a Nascar-esque advertisement suit, we’re out.
Original publication: http://www.lanthorn.com/article/2013/12/sell-outs