Paul Smith's College Will Not Challenge Ruling Blocking Name Change

Oct 22, 2015

After weeks of outcry by some alumni and current students, officials at Paul Smith’s College have decided not to challenge a judge’s decision preventing the college from changing its name. As WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reports, a large donation tied to the name change has been withdrawn.

Earlier this year the administration of Paul Smith’s announced that Joan and Sandy Weill would donate 20 million dollars to the college located in the Adirondacks.  But there was s caveat. The name of the college would be changed to Joan Weill-Paul Smith’s College.  

That set off an uproar from students and alumni who said it would denigrate the reputation of the college.  They filed a petition in the State Supreme Court noting that Phelps Smith’s will creating the college in 1937 included a clause that the institution be forever named Paul Smith’s College of the Adirondacks.  

The college argued that the clause “fatally impedes the ability of Paul Smith’s to seek large gifts from a single donor….” And the college would not remain financially viable as a result.

Judge John Ellis ruled the name must remain Paul Smith’s College.

On Thursday, the Paul Smith’s Board of Trustees, President Cathy Dove and the Weill’s announced that the college would not appeal the decision.  President Dove:   “We all recognize that a long legal process at this point would be divisive and just would not be in the best interests of the campus community.  And so that led to all of us feeling that the right decision is for the college community to move on.”

The $20 million dollar donation from the Weills, which Dove refers to as a naming gift, is now off the table.   “We always knew that we needed legal approval to move forward with it. And because the court did not approve the gift agreement is just not valid.”

1993 ecology and environmental technology alum Scott Van Laer, an outspoken critic of the name change, says the college has made the proper decision.   “I believed that their petition would ultimately fail.  At this point it’s just time for those of us who are on opposite sides to come together and to go forward and help the school with their future. We definitely want to get involved with that and we’d also like to see some changes made – some alumni added to the board of trustees.  We would certainly like to increase the voice of the alumni in the school and the direction that they go in the future.”

Van Laer believes both sides are trying to mend the animosity that peaked over the summer.   “The college announcing this before their 30 day window has closed is key and very important to bridging the divide between the college and the greater alumni community who opposed the name change.  So we’re not calling for anybody’s resignation or anybody to be removed.  We just are looking to have a voice and help add some alumni to the board to steer the college in the direction that it was when we were there.”

Dove, the college president, says the college is embarking on a new fundraising effort as a different anonymous donor has stepped in to help fill the gap.   “We’re calling it a Come Home to Paul Smith’s College Challenge.  The way it’s going to work is this family is pledging $5 million over five years, based on a variable scale, matching.”

Alumni have also begun a fundraising campaign called the Forever Drive.