A Victoria's Secret Student Center might seem incongruous in the company of Milbank Hall, Brooks Hall, and the Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger Residence Hall on Barnard College's four-acre campus. It hasn't happened — yet. But if Victoria's Secret offered, well, the possibilities are open.
In a push to raise $20 million for its largest, most costly expansion project to date, the liberal arts college is selling the naming rights for a 70,000-square-foot building currently under construction with an online ad seeking a corporate or private sponsor to foot the bill, administrators said.
"It's not typical to raise $20 million gifts by posting them online, but I think it would be a brilliant thing to do if a company wanted to demonstrate its commitment to women and higher education," the vice president for institutional advancement at Barnard, Cameran Mason, said.
A $20 million corporate outlay would be one of the largest donations the college ever received, she said, and would represent about 10% of the school's endowment. The board of trustees would ultimately have to approve the donation, and would likely reject a contentious donor "such as a convicted felon," Ms. Mason said.
In advertising the giving opportunity on its Web site, and encouraging corporations or individuals to make their name "synonymous with a structure that serves as the exhilarating hub of campus life at a great educational institution," Barnard is part of a growing trend among universities and colleges: exploring corporate fund-raising as a new method of bringing in donations large enough to make a mark at the institutions. The trend is raising questions about how a college branded with the logo of a major company can maintain its independence.
"Buildings in the past have been named after funders, but the idea is that they stand for something that the college also stands for," an associate professor of Women's Studies at Barnard, Neferti Tadiar, said. "I don't take to having corporate sponsors as the ideals that the students look up to."
Colleges and universities have long used names of their residence halls and academic buildings to establish relationships with big donors. They run the risk of creating conflicts of interest when they sell those marquees to companies, according to the president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, John Lippincott.
"Barnard is a sophisticated institution, and needs to be careful that if a corporate name goes on the building, there's no indication that the corporation is somehow influencing what goes on in the classrooms in those buildings," Mr. Lippincott said.
The five-story building currently under construction on Broadway in Morningside Heights is temporarily named the "Nexus" building, because it will be the center of campus. Scheduled to open in 2009, the building will house classrooms, dining halls, art studios, and a black box theater.
"I certainly wouldn't want it to be named after a liquor," a Barnard alum and Broadway producer, Dasha Epstein, said. "But I think that you really have no other way to go than big companies if you're raising that type of money."
State universities have named stadiums after companies such as Papa John's pizza company, Rubbermaid, and Taco Bell. The Bank of America has even endowed a deanship at the University of California at Berkeley's school of business.
As universities and colleges attach corporate names to their buildings in return for corporate dollars, many are including in their agreements clauses about "unnaming" buildings if the business practices of a company prove to be in conflict with the mission of the university.
"What if you name the building for Enron and then Enron becomes a source of embarrassment for the institution?" Mr. Lippincott said.
Even with such risks of corporate sponsorship, fund-raisers say that all options must be on the table when attracting dollars to colleges and universities.
"I think there are really no bad ideas in fund-raising," the senior vice president for development at New York University, Debra LaMorte, said. "Every idea ought to be considered because an institution like NYU needs resources." Corporations have attached their names to student centers, classrooms, and lounges at NYU, she said.
In 2006, corporate giving made up 16% of total philanthropic donations to American colleges and universities, a 4.5% rise from the previous year, according to the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Last year, colleges and universities raised about $28 billion in private donations, about 30% of which came from alumni, and 20% came from individuals who graduated from different institutions.