Iowa State seeks to name first buildings after businesses

Egg Council, Hy-Line facilities would break new ground on regent campuses

Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Iowa State University has secured the $5 million in donations needed to raze its existing Poultry Science Farm and erect a new one, and the school wants to name two of the farm’s buildings after those making them possible — an international corporation and an Iowa company.

If the Board of Regents approves Iowa State’s naming request, the buildings will become the first on a public university campus in Iowa to honor donor companies with naming rights. That recognition typically goes to “distinguished individuals who made extraordinary contributions of a scholarly, professional, or public service nature,” or who have given financially toward a building’s construction.

“Up to this point, buildings named because of philanthropic support have been named after individuals or families who have contributed generously to Iowa State University,” according to ISU spokesman John McCarroll.

Regents next week will consider Iowa State’s request to name its new $5 million poultry farm — which would replace nine 1960s buildings with six state-of-the-art poultry teaching and research facilities — the “Robert T. Hamilton Poultry Teaching and Research Farm.” That honor would recognize the late Hamilton and his surviving spouse Arlene Hamilton, who have committed $3 million to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for the project.

The university wants to name the new farm’s layer building the “Iowa Egg Council Layer Research Facility,” in honor of the Iowa Egg Council’s $1.5 million contribution to the project, and its new genetics building the “Hy-Line Genetics Research Building,” in honor of a $500,000 gift from Hy-Line International and its United States division, Hy-Line North America.

Across the country, plenty of public universities have named stadiums and other buildings after businesses — like Texas Tech University’s Jones AT&T Stadium and the University of Colorado’s Coors Event Center. But Iowa’s public universities have not yet waded into that territory.

The University of Iowa, according to spokeswoman Jeneane Beck, does not have any facilities named companies or organizations.

“Our buildings are named after individuals or families, either in honorarium or in connection to their philanthropy,” Beck said.

University of Northern Iowa likewise does not have any buildings named after a company, although it does have a few classrooms or spaces meeting that definition — like its John Deere Auditorium in the Curris Business Building.

The Iowa State request to buck its tradition comes as the Board of Regents considers a new trademark policy aimed at limiting university ties to unaffiliated organizations by barring external persons, organizations, or entities from using university protected marks as part of a name or trade name.

In justifying the need for that policy, regents cited reputational concerns — pointing specifically to Wells Fargo, recently marred by scandal, and the potential for damage if a company in a similar situation was linked to a regent university.

Such reputational associations are not purely hypothetical, after the Board of Regents in February pulled casino mogul Stephen A. Wynn’s name off the University of Iowa’s Institute for Vision Research following allegations of sexual misconduct.

Each of Iowa’s three public universities have policies around the naming of facilities — as does the Board of Regents, which mandates board approval to name “major units” and careful consideration of the “overall benefit to the institution, whether the name is and will continue to be a positive reflection on the institution, and whether the name comports with the purpose and mission of the Board of Regents and its institutions.”

Board policy allows universities to name facilities after a business or foundation, but stresses, “corporate namings require a thorough degree of due diligence to avoid commercial influence or conflict of interest.”

UI policy on naming allows “minor facility units,” like rooms, offices, and laboratories, to be named without a committee’s review “unless the naming proposal is a controversial naming, involves a corporate naming, or involves a potential conflict of interest.”

The issue of corporate naming — and the controversy that comes with it — emerged on the University of Iowa campus in 2007, when it engaged in talks with health insurer Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield to accept $15 million in exchange for possible naming rights to its College of Public Health.

University faculty, administrators, and members of the Board of Regents at the time expressed reservations about taking such a step and its potential to compromise academic independence — or at least the perception of it, according an Inside Higher Ed report at the time.

In the end, faculty voted against naming the college after Wellmark, and the insurer rescinded its gift offer — although it has donated to the university in other ways for more than 40 years.

Gary Fethke, interim UI president at the time, was supportive of the naming and said he was comfortable with it. And Fethke told The Gazette on Thursday he has no resistance to naming a building, school, or program after a successful business — noting the University of Iowa has received donations from companies like Rockwell Collins, Maytag, and John Deere.

“I see no material difference between many of those gifts, which were used to support faculty and construct facilities and programs, and the naming of a program itself,” he said. “My career was marked by generous contributions of individuals and businesses that stepped up, when asked, to assist the Tippie College of Business. These public-private partnerships were absolutely essential to our instructional and research activities.”

The Egg Council and Hy-Line gifts at Iowa State are not contingent on the name recognition. The new poultry facilities will be located south of Iowa State’s central campus as part of the Department of Animal Science’s teaching and research farms.

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