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Mo. system looks to lift limits on naming rights

Alan Scher Zagier, Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- The University of Missouri is working to make it easier to honor big-money donors who want their names on multiple campus buildings.

A rule first adopted in 1969 says donors can have just one campus building named on their behalf. The rule applies to the four system campuses in Columbia, Kansas City, Rolla and St. Louis.

The university's Board of Curators now wants to loosen that restriction. At a meeting last week in Rolla, several governing board members and a top campus fundraiser said the rule is antiquated and may discourage multiple gifts by deep-pocketed benefactors.

"Donors who have already made a major investment in the university and had a good experience, and felt good about their recognition, are the best prospects to make the next major investment," said Joan Nesbitt, vice chancellor for university advancement at Missouri University of Science & Technology in Rolla.

"The rule has the potential to signal to a donor that we value your contributions, but we don't value your recognitions and legacy," she added.

Curators didn't immediately approve the change but instead asked university lawyers to write a revised rule for future consideration.

Nesbitt said she hasn't encountered similar limits on naming rights in a 20-year career as a university fundraiser. An informal survey of other campus fundraisers in Missouri and beyond also failed to turn up any comparable restrictions, she said. That group included responses from Ohio State University, Washington University in St. Louis and Boston University.

Missouri S&T Chancellor Cheryl Schrader cautioned that some generous donors want to invest their money in seemingly divergent areas of interest. At Boise State University, where she worked as engineering dean before coming to Rolla, the names of one donor couple graced both a civil engineering building and a performing arts center. Another couple chose to fund a tennis complex and a business building.

"This collective rule could potentially force people to choose," she said.

University officials didn't publicly indicate whether a specific proposed donation was driving the suggested change, but Curator Don Downing noted that Missouri's public universities are far more dependent on private gifts now than four decades ago, when the campuses got most of their money from taxpayers.

University of Missouri-Columbia Chancellor Brady Deaton joined the chorus of support but cautioned the university to "not allow itself to be overly branded in a direction that's not appropriate."

He also pointed out that the existing rule may have some flexibility, noting the presence on the Columbia campus of the Donald W. Reynolds Alumni Center and the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. Both are named for the Missouri School of Journalism graduate who founded the Donrey Media Group.

For Nesbitt, the change boils down to putting her campus and others in the Missouri system on a level playing field.

"It feels a little bit like telling a student, 'Hey you can get as many degrees as you want, but we're only going to give you one diploma,'" she said.


Alan Scher Zagier can be reached at https://twitter.com/azagier