Buildings donated by 'corrupt' CEOs face name shame
Taubman. Kozlowski. Brennan.Skip to next paragraph
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They're among the disgraced executives that had been thought of as honest businessmen, pillars of the community. Hospitals put them on their boards of directors and named wings for them. Universities wooed them for jumbo contributions to build important centers of learning. Local Boys & Girls Clubs painted their names on their basketball courts.
But now, those big donors have tarnish around their names. Some of them are in jail, some are indicted and accused by the government of being crooks. Should those names be sandblasted off the walls?
It is an ethics question that is reverberating from the ivy-covered walls of Harvard to local YMCAs. Ethics experts say institutions having accepted money that is now tainted need to act to protect their reputation. They point out that keeping a building named for a felon is not a very healthy message for students being groomed as future leaders.
"The ultimate test is whether the institution is subject to ridicule," says Michael Josephson of the Josephson Institute of Ethics. "Do they have any standards?"
Many of the institutions, however, don't see it that way. They argue that the money was given before the donor ran afoul of the law. The cash funds something important, whether it's a hospital wing or a learning center. Furthermore, even if an organization wants to remove a name, it may face legal knots preventing any action.
Despite the potential for embarrassment, most institutions are not lining up sandblasters.
Typical is the response of Brown University in Providence, R.I., which hosts the A. Alfred Taubman Center for the Study of Public Policy and American Institutions. Mr. Taubman, a former chairman of the auction house Sotheby's, is currently incarcerated for a year at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., after his conviction for price-fixing. But he gave Brown the money for the center in 1984, when he was a real estate developer in Michigan. "The university has no plans to change the name," says Mark Nikel, a spokesman. "It represents a forward-thinking kind of center."
However, there is no question that for some institutions, centers named for felons make them uncomfortable. That's what is happening at Seton Hall University, which has a recreation center named for alum Robert Brennan, currently serving time for bankruptcy fraud. Mr. Brennan was sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the state of New Jersey for hundreds of millions of dollars that his company, First Jersey Securities, lost for investors through less than ethical conduct.
Not far away, with a golden brick facade, is one of the largest buildings on campus: Kozlowski Hall, which houses the business school. It was built in 1997 after a significant gift from Tyco International's former chairman, Dennis Kozlowski, now under indictment for tax evasion.