What’s in a med school’s name? Maybe $150 mil

The Medical School dean recently discussed the school’s naming rights.

by Ahnalese Rushmann

For an individual to change his or her name in Minnesota, he or she would have to appear in court and pay a filing fee. For the University’s Medical School to change its name, it could cost more than $100 million.

At a recent faculty meeting, Medical School Dean Deborah Powell addressed the issue of how much the naming rights of the Medical School are worth during discussion of school funding. Her answer: an estimated $150 million.

“I think we’ve said, and we’ve always said, that philanthropy is one of the very important things that can build research programs,” she said.

There aren’t current plans to find a specific donor, nor is the school working on offering naming rights. Powell said she was only addressing a question on how much the school’s name would cost, not whether the school is interested in offering the rights.

However, a big donor could provide relief to the school. Powell said the Medical School is not in debt, but that it has been spending from reserves. She said gifts are an important part of a school’s resource base.

According to the 2007 State of the Medical School report, gifts and endowments make up 4 percent of the school’s funding. However, declining state and federal resources could put more pressure on the private sector.

“The idea of large gifts to universities, that’s very trendy right now,” Powell said.

If the school named itself after a donor, the University would join a growing list of schools across the country that have done the same.

In 2002, the University of California-Los Angeles renamed its medical school in honor of music mogul David Geffen, who made a $200 million gift to the school.

More recently, a $20 million donation from Denny Sanford in 2005 prompted the University of South Dakota to rename its medical school for the St. Paul native.

On campus, the business school was named in honor of the late Curtis L. Carlson in 1986 after he donated $25 million.

Another option the school could consider is to collect a donation and keep the name as is. That’s exactly what the Wisconsin School of Business in Madison did earlier this year.

After unsuccessfully trying to find a donor to attach its name to his school, Dean Michael Knetter instead offered a group of donors the right to put money toward keeping the name unchanged.

The “no-name” gift was announced in late October and is worth $85 million – $35 million more than Knetter anticipated.

“I don’t think any person’s name has greater cache than Wisconsin,” he said. “I want to build on the brand we have.”

The gift has garnered attention because it was the first time donors had ever paid to keep their names off something, rather than on it.

Knetter said the no-name rights – which will remain for 20 years – provide the business school with a good opportunity to acquire even larger gifts down the road. Had the school attached an individual or corporation’s name now, he said the school would have less flexibility down the road.

For other schools, Knetter said he thinks the no-name route is a viable option – if the circumstances are right.

“Can it work for other schools? Absolutely, if the alumni think it’s a good idea,” he said.

One of the 13 donors who chipped in to the deal was Ted Kellner, chairman of Fiduciary Management and a Madison alumnus.

Kellner said he couldn’t make any specific recommendations for the Medical School, but added the no-name idea had several benefits.

“It creates and allows tremendous flexibility,” he said. “It certainly would give them the same ability.”

Kellner said this gift was something unique and does not necessarily reflect a trend.

He added that the idea of keeping the name the same was attractive, but didn’t necessarily see attaching names onto schools as a bad thing.

“Does it diminish if you put someone’s name on it? No. But it depends on the person,” he said.

Patty Dickmann, a second-year medical student, said any future name change should be discussed with students and alumni.

People would want to know if donation money would go toward funding research or education, she said.

Nate Scott, a fourth-year medical student and president of the Medical Student Council, said there would be different factors to consider if the University wanted to name itself for a private or corporate donor.

“We’re not talking about a sports arena,” he said.

Dickmann said it’d be important to keep the “University of Minnesota” as part of the name, because it signifies the school’s dedication to the state.

Powell said the Medical School is appreciative of current supporters, who play an important role in the school’s funding.

“We have wonderful donors in Minnesota, which have supported our scholarship programs and endowed chairs,” she said. “We are very grateful for them.”