Nestled in the forests of upper New York State is Paul Smith’s College (PSC). The College of the Adirondack’s owes its name to Phelps Smith, a generous 19th century hotelier, who agreed to give a sizable donation to the college on the condition that it forever carry the name of his father Paul Smith.
Nearly eighty years later, the college, which specializes in forestry, was offered another sizable endowment on the condition that it change its name to honor a new benefactor, Joan Weill, the wife of Wall Street billionaire Sanford Weill. Although many PSC officials were eager to swap the institution’s original name for the $20 million gift, New York State Judge, Justice John T. Ellis, ruled that the renaming condition was unacceptable as directly violated the college founder’s will.
In a statement released to the New York Times, the loss of the Weills’ gift was tragic as the majority of PSC students depend on financial aid. The shock waves of the ruling extend far beyond the Adirondacks. As Doug White, Director of Columbia University’s MS program in Fundraising Management noted, the ruling serves as a warning to organizations tempted to accept donations tied with perpetual benefactor naming agreements.