College News

Policy change will let UW System universities name buildings after corporate donors

A Board of Regents policy change will allow UW System schools to grant businesses and other organizations the naming rights to buildings, potentially creating a new revenue source. 

A Board of Regents policy change will allow UW System schools to grant businesses and other organizations the naming rights to buildings, potentially creating a new revenue source. 

Image By: Jeff Miller

UW System students’ next classes may take place in buildings named for corporations, if universities utilize a new naming rights policy change approved by the Board of Regents Friday. 

While previous regulations restricted naming rights to a person or people, the change allows for buildings, colleges and schools to also be named for businesses, non-profits, foundations or “any similar non-university organization.”

Alex Roe, the UW System’s senior associate vice president for capital planning and budget, told the Board of Regents’ education committee the policy change “is an important part of where we might get revenue'' based on a recent increase in corporate donations for academic programs, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The next day, the full board passed the policy change unanimously. 

The policy itself also mentions the goal of increasing funding, describing that naming rights will be a part of a strategy to “leverage private support for the benefit of the university,” according to regent documents

The UW System isn’t the first higher education system to allow adding corporation names to campus buildings. At Iowa State University, the school named part of a research facility the Hy-Line Genetics Wing following a $500,000 donation from genetics company Hy-Line International.

Other schools with corporate building names include the University of Kansas-Lawrence’s Capitol Federal Hall, named for a bank, the University of California-San Diego’s Wells Fargo Hall, named for the financial company and the University of Houston’s Insperity Center, named for a human resources company.

Despite its growing prominence, not everyone sees corporate-named buildings as a positive.

AFT-Wisconsin, the Wisconsin chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, tweeted Monday that allowing businesses naming rights is “shameful, and a source of endless conflicts of interest.” A better revenue source would be state funding, the tweet said, including the hashtag “#fundthefreeze,” a reference to the campaign to increase state financial support in wake of the undergraduate in-state tuition freeze that began in 2013.

To try to prevent “a perception of commercial influence,” the policy change stipulates the business or other organization involved in potential naming agreements can’t use UW System logos or names for advertising. Similarly, the university buildings and signage can’t display the business’ logo or branding, with the exception of its name. 

The Board of Regents maintains the authority to approve names, and the naming agreements will have a set end date determined for each case. The board can also remove a name under “exceptional circumstances,” such as a donor not meeting the agreed upon financial commitment or using a name harming the UW System’s reputation. 

The policy change comes amid both declining enrollment and budget concerns for many UW System campuses. UW-Whitewater is looking to lay off employees following a $12 million deficit and UW-Oshkosh is offering more than 300 staff and faculty voluntary buyouts

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