Education: Giving philanthropy the name it deserves
Universities find it hard to persuade wealthy donors to put their names on buildings
In UCD, the first purpose-built university law school in Ireland is named after Peter Sutherland SC
Michael Smurfit’s got one. So too Peter Sutherland and Martin Naughton, one of Ireland’s richest men. Denis O’Brien has got one also, and what’s more his is bigger than Sir Anthony O’Reilly’s – just a stone’s throw away on the grounds of University College Dublin.
So why can’t I have one? In its wisdom, The Irish Times thought: “How hard can it be to get a building named after yourself or your family on a college campus?”
“It’s not a click-and-buy situation,” one university spokesperson replied coolly. “In the past, all you’d be asked for was a cheque and your name would go up on the door, but now we’re trying to build life-long commitments, and that’s something donors are interested in too.”
Institutions are reluctant to talk figures but say a donor would need to be funding at least 20 per cent of a project before it would carry his name (and it generally is “his” at present).
NUI Galway president Prof Jim Browne puts the allocation higher, saying “typically about one third would be covered by the donor; in some cases it would be more.” However, he stresses that, contrary to some perceptions, “it’s very difficult to persuade people to put their name on a building. In the US, it’s very different, and that may be partly because of the culture or it may be because philanthropy is underdeveloped here.”
He recalls trying to persuade a donor recently to go public “but he refused to be recognised. I said, ‘It’s not your ego we are playing to here but you are setting an example; you are putting it up to your peers. It’s not simply recognising you.’ It didn’t work in that particular instance but we should encourage people to be recognised.”
An early philanthropic entrant to the sector was Smurfit who in 1991 donated half of the initial £3 million building cost for the UCD business school in Blackrock, Co Dublin. The Monaco resident has continued to support the college along with friends and peers, including Denis O’Brien who gave £3 million to the school in the late 1990s.
More recently, O’Brien and his wife Catherine were the largest contributors to a €26 million fund of private donations for the construction of UCD’s newest science building. The €100 million development was opened last October, and constitutes the second phase of a three-part development of the O’Brien Centre for Science.