More than nine years after Roger Ailes donated half a million dollars to the Scripps College of Communication, the metal letters spelling out his name above a WOUB newsroom were stripped from the wall.

After gouges in the wall were left in the place of the letters, the wall was painted over and now remains white and bare.

In the past year, more than 20 women have accused Ailes, the former Fox News chairman and CEO, of sexual harassment, which sparked discussion among alumni, faculty and students about sexual harassment and misconduct. Ailes donated $500,000 to the college in 2007, and in turn, university officials agreed to name a WOUB newsroom, located on the third floor of the RTV building, after him.

After consideration, Ohio University President Roderick McDavis announced the decision to return Ailes’ gift and remove his name from the wall — a decision that was made without the guidance of a morality or removal clause in the university’s policy.

Like the Ailes newsroom, at least 13 university buildings or facilities on the Athens campus are named after people who are alive. Eight of those facilities were named for individuals in return for donations they made to the university. Those donations add up to about $26 million, though it could be more. University officials were unable to locate a complete list of OU classrooms, laboratories, conference rooms and all other facilities named after donors.

Ailes and other living donors

The university’s naming policy does not include a section outlining why university officials would remove a name from a space such as the Ailes newsroom. When naming is a result of a private gift, reconsideration of renaming is mentioned in donor gift agreements with the Ohio University Foundation. Reconsideration of naming has been mentioned in those agreements since 2012.

A task force — formed earlier in the semester at the request of Faculty Senate —is working with the Office of the Provost on an update to the current policy, Senate Chair Joe McLaughlin said.

“I think what that morality policy … can do if something bad were to happen while that person was still alive … then you’re like ‘oh whoops, maybe we shouldn’t have named (it that),’ ” Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones said. “By having (spaces) named after people who were deceased, you would think all the skeletons would be out of the closet at that point. And I think that’s probably why we ended up doing what we did when we named the residence halls."

Typically, residence halls are named after individuals who have already died.

When buildings are named after people who are still alive, it is often because those people have donated to the university, and OU names a space after them in return for their gift.

“I think that when we name things at the university, it should not just be a fundraising issue. It’s a kind of moment in which we make important statements about our values,” McLaughlin said. “To that end, I don’t think it is or should be exclusively or even primarily a fundraising issue.”

The university has faced issues in the past with living donors. Last year, Steven Schoonover, who donated $7.5 million for the Steven L. and Barbara G. Schoonover Center for Communication, said administrators should play the “race card” in response to critics of McDavis’ move to 31 Coventry Lane.

Other universities have faced similar problems in the past few years. Pennsylvania State University came under fire recently for its Joe Paterno statue, which was erected while the famed coach was alive. Central State University renamed its Camille O. & William H. Cosby Communications Center last year after more than 50 women accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault.

Nonliving donors

Unlike in the Ailes’ case, the 2015 naming of the new South Green residence halls honored individuals who had already died.

Hall-Jones was one of 14 members on the committee to name the four halls.

“Now that’s different, I think, than the Roger Ailes stuff because (the newsroom was) a donation-based naming, which is a way for institutions to raise money, but because the residence halls are student money, and some state money depending on the year, they’re never automatically named after a donor,” she said.

The new residence halls are named after Arthur D. Carr, Evelyn Coulter Luchs, Claude R. Sowle and Tomoyasu and Sumiko Tanaka.

“Nobody ever donates to residence halls,” Hall-Jones said. “So in that way we had that clean slate, and we were able to look through all the history and come up with names of people that we wanted to.”

Naming and removal process

Unlike OU, Bowling Green State University has a removal clause in its policy, which allows the university to change the name of a building if the name "calls into serious question the public respect of the university.”

The University of Toledo has a similar clause in its policy that states the university can remove a name from a facility if the person it is named after acts in such a way that would damage the university's reputation.

OU’s building policy was last modified in 2003, and the university president makes all initial recommendations for building names.

If the gift is from a private donor, OU’s Division of University Advancement considers the gift and helps decide whether to name a building or facility after the donor, OU Spokesman Dan Pittman said. According to the policy, university officials can consider naming a building after a donor who has contributed more than 50 percent of the facility’s cost.

Bryan Benchoff, president and CEO of the OU Foundation, is responsible for that department and for maintaining a list of all university buildings.

If the gift was not private, OU’s president forms an ad hoc committee to recommend individuals who contributed “significant service” or made historical contributions to the university, Pittman said.

After the committee makes suggestions, OU’s president reviews the recommendations and presents them to the Board of Trustees.

The future of the naming policy

No specific timeline has been set for the for revisions to OU's building naming policy, but university officials are working to make changes. Pittman said the policy is under review, but he did not provide further details as to how it could be modified in the future.

“Ohio University is engaging with campus stakeholders to review and refine its existing building naming policy (Policy 37.010),” Pittman said in an email. “We intend to explore various revision suggestions and opportunities as part of this comprehensive review effort.”

McLaughlin said he hopes the process serves as a way to analyze who and what OU’s buildings represent.

“We now seem to be in a climate in which we name buildings after donors as the result of gifts,” he said. “Taking a long view, we really seem to have shifted, and I guess my concern there is that that kind of happened ad hoc over time without any kind of deliberation. We have drifted, or maybe by accumulation of one-time decisions, we’re in this new kind of culture, without any moment of stopping and reflecting and sort of thinking, ‘is this where we want to go?’ ”

— Megan Henry contributed to this report.


Clarification: This article has been updated to reflect the most accurate reporting. 

Comments powered by Disqus