Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Judge Rules Against Paul Smith’s Name Change

Paul Smith's CollegeA state judge has ruled against Paul Smith’s College’s request to change its name to Joan Weill-Paul Smith’s College, a controversy that has roiled the college and its alumni for months.

State Supreme Court Justice John Ellis issued the ruling Tuesday.

Cathy Dove, president of the college, had pushed for the name change in order secure a $20 million gift from Weill, a wealthy philanthropist who once served as chairwoman of the college’s board of trustees.

Many of the college’s alumni vehemently opposed the name change, but the judge did not allow a group of alumni, led by Scott Van Laer, to join the lawsuit.

“We are so pleased in the decision and that the court carefully considered the college’s petition. It is now time for the entire college community, those who opposed and those who supported the name change, to come together and support the college in the way only Smitties can,” Van Laer said Wednesday.

Dove posted an announcement on the college’s website: “Yesterday, the New York State Supreme Court in Franklin County denied our petition to add Joan Weill’s name alongside that of the founding family. While we are disappointed in the court’s decision, the Board of Trustees and I truly appreciate the enduring connection our people feel to the college and our traditions. We look forward to working with faculty, staff, students, alumni and other stakeholders as we address the challenges that we along with many other colleges face in this environment, consider our options and shape our future.”

The college is named after Paul Smith, a hotelier and entrepreneur. His son established the college in his honor and stipulated in his will that it be “forever known as Paul Smith’s College of Arts and Sciences.” The college argued that it needed the $20 million to ensure its financial security.

In his decision, Ellis said the college failed to demonstrate that the name change–and the money that would come with it–is necessary ensure the school’s survival. “The financial records before the Court reflect the College’s fiscal problems are recent,” the judge wrote, adding that the college’s arguments were speculative.

The library and student center at the college are already named after Weill. She is married to Sanford Weill, the retired CEO of Citigroup. It is unclear whether she will withdraw the $20 million offer.

Click the link below to read the judge’s decision.

Paul Smith’s decision


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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

17 Responses

  1. Keith Silliman says:

    Good. Would like to read the decision. Hopefully this puts an end to this issue.

  2. adkcamp says:

    The judge did not obstruct Joan Weill from donating the money – if she cares so much about the college, its mission, the students and its future, she will donate the money anyway.

  3. Karen says:

    Here’s a link to the decision from the Times Union.

  4. Boreal says:

    I agree with the decision, but it is a shame it had to be decided in a court after months of turmoil. Should have been a no-brainer.

  5. Phil Brown says:

    I added the PDF file of the court’s decision and added a few details.

  6. Bruce says:

    I agree with the decision. If that ruling were not made, there is a risk of every big benefactor wanting a name change. Now if the college wants to dedicate a new wing or project to Ms. Weill, and commission a portrait for the lobby, that’s fine.

    While Paul Smith’s is not as large or venerable as say Harvard, can you envision Donald Trump donating a huge pile of money and wanting Harvard changed to “Trump University?”

  7. Seems to me that it’s all about vanity, both on the part of the college president & Joan Weill. Isn’t it enough that the library & student center carry the Weill name??

    • Paul says:

      Was it about vanity when the Smith family gave the land and money and insisted that Paul’s name be on it in perpetuity? This type of giving has been going on for a long time. Call it vanity if you like.

  8. Hawthorn says:

    Every university and college has buildings named after donors, including Harvard. And, many universities and colleges have been renamed in honor of major donors. It’s rather humorous actually that wealthy people have such fragile egos that they need such recognition, while the average person who gives to a charity or a college never expects anything in return except for the knowledge that they supported a good cause.

  9. Randy says:

    Just opened the paper and what a nice way to start the day! Congrats to the State Supreme Court for getting this one right, and congrats to all the alumni who pressed the issue. Paul Smiths is a treasure and I’m so glad that reason prevailed in the face of another one percenter’s attempt to screw things up over vanity. The alumni need to get more of their folks on the board of trustees so they have a louder voice in college affairs.

  10. joe says:

    Financial reality will set in soon. The people who were so outraged by this will have to step up to the plate and help fund the place. Small rural colleges are closing these days, noticed? PSC went thru a financial crisis recently. If you want it to be PSC forever, they have to raise the money somehow. It can’t all be tuition funded – students simply cannot carry the full burden. PSC alumni are generally not wealthy. I imagine large donors will not be on PSCs doorstep for a while. So any comments here for organizing to help the place.

  11. Glad to see the judge ignored hype, emotion and Chicken-Little-ism and stuck to his job of applying the law.

    Mrs. Weill remains free to donate $20 million or any other sum of her choosing, provided it’s done in a way that respects the legality of Smith’s will.

  12. Charlie S says:

    ” Seems to me that it’s all about vanity, both on the part of the college president & Joan Weill. Isn’t it enough that the library & student center carry the Weill name?? ”

    I was thinking the same thing Fritzie. Evidently some people who are well to do have ego problems. I mean we all do in a sense but the rich oftentimes like to capitalize on it.

    • Paul says:

      Charlie, I assume that you feel that it was vanity that led the Smith family to insist on the name of Paul being tied to the school in perpetuity. Through this whole thing for some reason she has been portrayed as some sort of egotistical person for insisting on the same thing that Smith did. School wouldn’t even exist without the ego of Phelp’s Smith. Same goes for the Cornell’s, the Vanderbuilt’s, the Carnegie’s, the Rockefeller’s, …..

  13. Charlie S says:

    joe says: “I imagine large donors will not be on PSCs doorstep for a while. ”

    Yep, they wont donate all because they cannot have their names in raised letters for all to plainly see on the buildings at the institutions they donate to. Like immature brats. Reminds me of the idiot Tiger Woods who has tantrums in public when he misses a shot. Giving is all about an act of kindness,not about expecting something in return.This is one messed up society I must say.