Del. Ken Plum: What’s in a Name?

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Almost a year ago the Washington Business Journal carried a headline, “George Mason University sells Patriot Center naming rights.”

For nearly $7 million over the next decade GMU agreed to change the name of the Patriot Center to the Eagle Bank Arena with the new name prominently displayed on the sides of the sports and events complex. If the deal is renewed for another decade, the deal would grow to $13.7 million.

Selling rights to sports venues is of course not new. Most arenas, stadiums and fields are named for the highest bidder in the competition to get the recognition that comes with such naming rights. For the college or municipality the deal brings revenue to support the sports program and the facility. Some states are selling naming rights of bridges and highways as a way to raise revenue.

Just last week, George Mason University announced pledges totaling $30 million to the George Mason University Foundation to support the School of Law. “The gifts, combined, are the largest in university history,” the GMU press release noted.

The press release went on to say, “in recognition of this historic gift, the Board of Visitors has approved the renaming of the school to The Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University.”

That name was further revised when the unfortunate acronym of the original name was pointed out. Although the new name will not become official until the change is approved in July by the State Council of Higher Education, the webpage has already been changed to the Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University.

I wrote to the President and Rector of the Board of Visitors of George Mason University expressing my strong opposition to the name change. While many have objected to the person for whom the School of Law is proposed to be named, my objection was that selling the naming rights to a school of the University was not appropriate.

I recognize the realities of the sports world and the well-established practice of selling naming rights like that done with the Patriot Center. For a public university to sell naming rights to its academic schools is not good public policy. Name scholarship programs after the contributors, but leave the school name alone.

There is no greater honor for a school of law than to carry the name George Mason. Among the founders, George Mason insisted on and authored a declaration of rights in the Virginia Constitution that became a bill of rights in the federal Constitution. Imagine how different our history would be without Mason having overcome Jefferson’s and Madison’s opposition to including a bill of rights in the constitution. If Mason had his way, the slave trade would have stopped with the adoption of the new constitution.

Already there is understandable concern in the GMU community about the influence of private money on the direction of the University. The handling of the name change at the School of Law will only intensify that concern.

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