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Del. Ken Plum: What’s in a Name?

by Del. Ken Plum April 14, 2016 at 2:00 pm 13 Comments

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.

  • Ming the Merciless

    Gee ya think our buddy here would complain about “selling the name” if they’d named it the Thurgood Marshall School of Social Justice Law?

    • Reston Crimewatcher


  • WhoIsJohnGalt

    So, just to be clear, you believe in taxing people to kingdom come but do not believe in allowing a business to sell it’s naming rights as a way to generate revenue? So, you want to take-take-take but are opposed to make-make-make

    • Chuck Morningwood

      GMU is not a business; it is a public university. While tuition rates are sky high, it is not because the shareholders are demanding a greater ROI.

  • Mike M

    Ken, call us when you actually influence a decision other than that of Reston’s most naive to vote for you yet again to be our poodle representative at the pit bull party in Richmond. Writing a letter is no accomplishment.

  • meh

    By your logic we should change the Woodrow Wilson Bridge since he was a racist democrat.

    While president of Princeton University, Wilson had discouraged African-Americans from applying for admission, preferring to keep the peace among Anglo-Saxons and alumni

    But you’re right Mel, let’s just go after those evil evil republicans

    • Mel

      I never said to “go after those evil evil republicans.” I said that if a state representative wants to complain about something he should propose how to fix the underlying problem.

      I am not even going to respond to your first statement. It is so devoid of logic that I cannot be bothered.

      • meh

        I’m having an issue figuring this out, perhaps you can help me?

        You stated that you were a “proud democrat” and had concerns over having the name of a piece of property reflect that of an individual whom had negative views towards a certain demographic.

        I Inquired upon whether or not you feel we should be changing all property names, or if it was only in regards to Republicans. It became a partisan issue the moment the phrase “proud democrat” was brought into the forefront.

        • meh

          Furthermore in respect to former president Wilson. Several historians have criticized a number of Wilson’s policies on racial grounds.Wilson believed that slavery was wrong on economic labor grounds, rather than for moral reasons

          Additionally, he segregated officers in the second world war. Wilson told them “segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.”

          So perhaps you can clarify as to why you felt the commentary of President Wilson was “devoid of logic”?

        • Mel

          The “proud democrat” statement was in my regards to pay taxes so that the money goes to good causes. It is NOT the driving force behind my feeling that the name of the law school now reflects the name of a very controversial figure.You are conflating the two statements in order to then disregard my statement about the funding.

          You did not “inquire.” Or if you did, you “inquired” so inarticulately that you failed to even as a question. You made an assumption about my view on something that is actually unrelated to the name of GMU Law and the state’s failure to provide adequate funding.

          As to your views on Wilson and the bridge. You are right about Wilson and his awful legacy. But your argument is “devoid of logic” because its a red herring (aka, its a logical fallacy). No one is talking about renaming other monuments/ buildings/ etc. You use it to distract from the issue that I raised.

          If you are going to respond to what I say, then respond to what I actually say. Please don’t twist the order of the words I use in order to make borderline ad hominem attacks against me.

          Or do. I don’t care really. Whatever gets you through a Thursday.

  • unbelievable

    You’ve got to be kidding me Ken.

  • TheRealODB


  • Ming the Merciless

    And while you’re at it, George Mason was a slave-owner and opponent of abolishing the slave trade, so that name has to go, too.


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