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September 12, 2007 - Image 16

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2007-09-12

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WensaSpebr1,0 0 -ThMiignD

The stories behind the dubious names
of campus landmarks
By Donn M. Fresard | Daily Staff Reporter


andy Weill is no saint.
A billionaire and a
titan of the finance
industry, he's landed
in hot water for bribing
executives and stock
analysts. When he was
chairman of Citigroup,
it had to pay billions to investors after
it helped defraud them by playing
three-card monte with Enron's and
WorldCom's finances. To legalize
full-service superbanks like Citi, he
muscled through Congress a repeal of
the New Deal-era Glass-Steagall Act
- a move that, some argue, helped
make possible the mortgage crisis
that's forcing millions of Americans
out of their homes.
So it's only natural that the Univer-
sity would name its new public policy
building after him.
To be fair, the school itself is named
after former President GeraldFord, the
only Michigan alum to reach the Oval
Office, and Ford wanted the building to
be named for Weill and his wife Joan,
both close friends of the president.
Ford is a hero here, and "his stamp of
approval means a lot," says Paul Cou-
rant, who was provost when the deal
went through. Plus, Weill chipped in
$5 million to bankroll the project.
It might have been the first time the
University named a building for some-
one after he was caught in a scandal,
but it's nothing new to see a controver-
sial figure's name printed on campus
maps. To take one example, there's
a Ross School of Business building
named for Sam Wyly, a Dallas rascal
billionaire and University donor who's
under investigation for tax evasion.
He and his brother, Charles - they're
often called, no kidding, the "Wyly
Coyotes" - are prominent Republican
donors who are notorious for funding
the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads
that sunk John Kerry's 2004 presiden-
tial campaign. Their money is so dirty
that John McCain returned $20,000 of
it in 2006.
Of course, we shouldn't concern our-
selves with our donors' politics, and
you wouldn't expect people at the Ross
School to care. But inside the more lib-
eral Ford School, where the walls are
adorned with plaques celebratingFord's
other friends who donated - most of
them seem to be officials from vari-
ous Republican administrations - you
have to imagine there's a little chagrin.
There's even a classroom named for
Paul O'Neill, the disastrous two-year
Treasury secretary under George W.
Bush. President Ford was a real Michi-
gan Man, God bless him, but the com-
pany he kept will be making new public
policy students at Michigan scratch
their heads for generations to come.
T he more you look at campus build-
ings' namesakes, the more you
realize how often they come with an

ironic back story. Take Alfred Taub-
man, the University dropout and con-
victed felon whose $30 million got him
naming rights for the College of Archi-
tecture and Urban Planning. He's most
notorious forthe Sotheby's price-fixing
scheme, which landed him a one-year
prison sentence in 2002 and led some
to call for the University to rename the
college. (Lee Bollinger, the president
at the time, demurred.) But to focus on
Taubman's auction-house career is to
miss the point - which is that even in
1999, when the University accepted his
gift, the Bloomfield Hills native was a
dubious namesake for the college.
In his first career, Taubman made a
fortune by pioneering and then domi-
nating the shopping-mall industry.
That may not seem like much of an
offense to most, but to urban plan-
ners, it makes him a pariah. Without
going into the details too much, urban
planning students like relatively dense
cities where you can walk most places
you need to go. Malls tend to suck peo-
ple away from urban centers, killing
downtown businesses, contributing to
sprawl and encouraging an unsustain-
able "car culture." At least to the urban
planningaside, naming the college after
Alfred Taubman is a little like naming
the Law School after Jesse James.
Another darkly funny case is that
of the new Walgreen Drama Center,
brought to you by University alum
Charles Walgreen Jr., the former
president of the Walgreens drug-store
chain who died in February. Some
were disappointed when the Univer-
sity announced that the Arthur Miller
Theater, named for the late playwright
who was one of Michigan's marquee
alums, would be housed inside the
Walgreen Center rather than the other
way around.
It seemed like just another exam-
ple of the University's desperation
for donors - until last October, when
Dale Winling connected the dots in a
gleeful post on his blog, Urbanoasis.
org. It turns out Walgreen's father,
Charles Sr., ignited a media firestorm
in 1935 when he initiated a Communist
witch-hunt at the University of Chi-
cago, resulting in a professor's firing.
The story has close parallels to Honors
at Dawn, which Miller wrote as a stu-

dent in 1937, winning him his second
Hopwood Award. Even if Miller's play
wasn't an anti-McCarthyist roman a
clef about Walgreen himself, it's hard
to imagine the drama center's name
would be Miller's first choice.
S tephen Darwall, the director of the
LSA Honors Program and a phi-
losophy professor who specializes in
ethics, doesn't see much of a problem
with all this. The University needs
big-time donors to make up for wan-
ing state support, he points out, and
it's unfair to condemn an executive's
entire career for one or two minor
What he would object to, though,
is naming buildings, schools and col-
leges after corporations. That, he says,
would lead to questions about the
unit's mission, and it would be a clear
sign that the University is being used
to advertise a brand. "Corporations
are to make money - just by defini-
tion," he says.
That's not just an academic ques-
tion. At the University of Iowa, the
faculty of the College of Public Health
just this month voted down a proposal
to take $15 million from Wellmark Blue
Cross and Blue Shield in exchange for
naming rights. Most were concerned
that naming the college after an insur-
ance company would taint its reputa-
tion for impartial research.
Could it happen here? There aren't
any rules against it, says Bob Groves,
associate vice president for devel-
opment. But it doesn't seem likely,
See NAMES, Page 9B

donor Sam Wyly on the wall in Wyly Hall
on Tappan Street. (EMMA NOLAN-ABRA-
HAMIAN/Daily) Sanford Weill at a dedica-
tion event at Cornell University (AP) Alfred
Taubman speaks at the University. (COUR-
green Drama Center on the corner of Mur-
fin and Bonisteel Streets on North Campus.
Weill Hall on South State Street. (EMMA
Graduate School on North University
Daily) A Wyly Hall courtyard from inside
the building. (EMMA NOLAN-ABRAHA-

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