While UB gave away medical school name for $30 million, other schools hold out for much more


Getting your name on a school can cost big money.

David Booth’s $300 million donation to the University of Chicago got him a business school – the Booth School of Business – in 2008.

Raymond and Ruth Perelman shelled out $225 million to the University of Pennsylvania in 2011 and got a medical school.

And in 2004, Stephen Ross gave $100 million to the University of Michigan for the business school that now bears his name.

How, some students, faculty and community members are wondering, did UB alum and billionaire Jeremy Jacobs get off so easily?

Jacobs’ recent $30 million donation bought him naming rights to UB’s new medical school, which will be called the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

This will be the first time UB has named a school after one individual and Jacobs’ donation is the second-largest donation in UB’s history.

Yet, a $30 million donation to many other schools across the country, both private and public, would not even be enough to gain naming rights to a single building.

“It just seems weird that now we’re the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, I mean I don’t think it’s going to make that much of a significant change, I think people are still gonna call it whatever they want,” said Denise Polaski, a first-year medical student. “But maybe 30 million is more significant to us since we’re a state school, but it still seems weird.”

Peter Wang, a first-year medical student, said he worries the donation will just go toward construction and not make a difference in the lives of students.

“He donated that much money but yet our tuition is still the same,” Wang said. “The money means nothing to us if it’s not tangible.”

Not all students feel this way. David DiPalma, a third year dental student said, “It’s not everyday that someone throws $30 million around – I think he earned it.”

A portion of Jacobs’ donation would go to scholarships and buildings but the amount that will be allocated for this purpose is still unclear, said Nancy L. Wells, vice president for philanthropy and alumni engagement at UB.

Jacobs, current chairman of the UB Council and Co-Chief Executive Officer of Delaware North – a Buffalo-based food service and hospitality company that has 60,000 employees – graduated from UB in the 1950s. His net worth is estimated to be $3.9 billion, according to Forbes.

“As it pertains to Mr. Jacobs and his gift specifically, the decision to name the school after the family rested largely in UB’s desire to recognize Mr. Jacobs and the family for all that they have done for the university over an extended period of time and service,” Wells said. “The decision to name the school was not made because he made a $30 million gift. The gift was only one of the considerations.”

According to UB, The Jacobs family has donated more than $50 million over the years.

Universities often offer naming rights as incentive for donors to give big. This has become particularly true in the past decade when cuts in government aid have pushed colleges and universities to become more aggressive about fundraising. Between 2000-13, seven of the 12 buildings at the University of Texas at Austin were named in honor of donors as opposed to university presidents or faculty members.

And while private schools, like the University of Chicago, that don’t have to worry about government cuts will always bring in much larger scale donations, even large public institutions like UB have gotten more than $30 million before renaming. Red McCombs gave the University of Texas at Austin $50 million in 2000 to get the business school named after him.

Universities have extra motivation to name their schools as well – especially when it comes to notoriety.

Michael E. Cain, dean of the medical school and vice president of health services, told The Spectrum in September that it’s prestigious for a university to have its medical school named after someone. Only 11 of the 62 Association of American Universities, of which UB is a part, carry names.

UB Spokesperson John Della Contrada sent The Spectrum a copy of UB’s naming policy. The policy states that naming is “designed to accommodate donor expectations and university needs while keeping the University at Buffalo mission and policies paramount in the making of such decisions.” The policy also states “all facility naming opportunities are valuable university assets, and, as such, naming is usually only appropriate when a significant gift is received.”

Rare naming exceptions can be made solely at the “discretion of the president upon recommendation from the vice president for philanthropy and alumni engagement,” according to the policy.

The policy also states the vice president for philanthropy and alumni engagement must recommend all naming opportunities that involve gifts of $1 million or more. President Satish Tripathi and the UB Council then must give approval.

Then, the university alerts the SUNY Chancellor and the SUNY Board of Trustees and they must approve it.

Jacobs’ donation has also helped the medical school get closer to its $200 million fundraising goal. The school still needs another $40 million to meet that goal.

Still, at some universities, donors who gave roughly the same amount as the Jacobs have received much less from the universities.

For instance, University of Notre Dame alumnus Richard Corbett donated $35 million to his alma mater earlier this year – with $10 million designated for a football coaching salary. As a thank you, the university plans to name a building – the Corbett Family Hall – after him. It will contain the Departments of Anthropology and Psychology and a digital media center.

University of Maryland received a $31 million donation from Brendan Iribe, co-founder and chief executive of a virtual reality technology company Oculus, last year. The university subsequently began construction of the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation in his honor.

At UB, the naming rights to a building also costs less than at other comparable schools.

The UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences named its building Barbara and Jack Davis Hall after the couple donated $5 million toward the construction of the facility. Davis, a 1955 graduate of UB’s School of Engineering, said he and his wife would also donate a portion of his estate to the school following his death and the balance when Barbara passes away.

Wells said UB’s policy differentiates between existing buildings and newer buildings. She said for new buildings, naming is considered when a gift is at least 50 percent of the privately funded portion of the cost.

Some schools have received much larger donations than Jacobs,’ without changing the names of their schools.

The Hewlett Foundation donated $400 million to Stanford University in 2001, with $300 million going toward the School of Humanities and Sciences, but the building does not carry the Hewlett name.

Emily Klatt, a graduate student in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, said Jacobs’ donation is still “a huge gift either way.”

“I think it’s an appropriate way to honor the family or person that donates that much money,” Klatt said “When families donate money to a school I don’t think they’re doing it because they want to have something named after them, I think they’re doing it for research and programs – or at least I hope that’s not the reason. ”

Wells said gifts are typically not made specifically to name something. She said naming is one of many ways universities recognize and thank donors for contributions.

“UB follows a naming policy that outlines minimum thresholds for all types of naming opportunities, including buildings,” Wells said.

Wells said the university’s process of recognizing donors is “very donor-centered, regardless of what the gift will fund [such as a] building, school, or scholarship.”

Ashley Inkumsah is a news desk editor and can be reached at ashley.inkumsah@ubspectrum.com