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Universities need naming policies

A rose by any other name…


In the wake of events like the Enron scandal in the U.S. and, closer to home, Conrad Black’s fraud conviction, universities have had to wrestle with what to do when a convicted felon has his or her name attached to a prominent campus building, an endowed chair, or other university structure or program.

Similarly, universities sometimes face criticism when a building or program is named after someone who is simply controversial.

That’s why every university needs a strong naming policy that sets clear guidelines and also satisfies the entire community, says Vincent Duckworth, a Calgary-based consultant who advises institutions on how to create such policies.

The core of any good policy, says Mr. Duckworth, is that the institution must be able to investigate the person they’re being associated with, and “the name better fit very well with the mission and values of the institution.” A good policy also has an exit clause – “the ability for either party to say that your mission and values have drifted away from what we originally had entered into, and we need to now make a change.”

The policy must give the institution the ability to remove that name publicly, and to explain why, in the event the person whose name is emblazoned on university property commits a criminal or unethical act. “But that needs to be understood between the two parties at the beginning,” says Mr. Duckworth. It can’t be “dumped” on either party later. “That’s where people get into trouble.”

As well, in a collegial environment, all stakeholders must have a part in shaping a policy and must be able to participate in the decisions, he says.

Most institutions approach him for help before they’re facing an emergency, which he says is smart. “They just want to get their ducks in a row. They realize that, in today’s marketplace, naming policies are something that they should be looking at.”

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