Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Name Conspiracy

Caitlyn Hutchison, Honors College Senior.

Caitlyn Hutchison, Honors College senior, on the new name.

Jennifer Wilt, Honors College Freshman, on the new name.

The University of Oklahoma's Honor College has recently adopted a new name and some students disagree with the change.

The building is now labeled under the Joe C. and Carole Kerr McClendon Honors College, named after the parents of donor Aubrey McClendon, who gave the single largest donation in honors college history.

Some students have begun to worry about what this name change means after an article was released in the Oklahoma Daily revealing a petition started by the Students for a Democratic Society, SDS, to have the name changed.

These students worry that the name change is challenging the principles of the college itself.

“In my opinion, the McClendon name shouldn’t be put on the Honors College building,” Nick Stanley, Honors College Freshman and SDS treasurer said. “Given McClendon’s past dealings, both in business and philanthropic works, I think his name directly contradicts the values, ethics and goals of the Honors College.”

McClendon has become well known for his business dealings and politics. According to an article by the Seattle Times McClendon, with business partner Tom Ward, donated over one-million dollars to and anti-gay organization, Americans United to Preserve Marriage.

“I think they should change the Honors College name back to David L. Boren, because I could see where it is offensive to some people,” Jennifer Wilt, Honors College freshman, said.
The SDS had brought up the petition after months of requesting information on the change, according to Stanley.

“It is the largest donation in Honors College history and officials weren’t releasing any information about it,” Stanley said. “We were asking people about it for months with no response and heard nothing. We put out the petition because we wanted more transparency.”

The article in the Oklahoma Daily created a large backlash against the organization because of the quotes given by SDS president, Sean Hughes, against McClendon.

After the article was published each party involved with the story: Students for a Democratic Society, Aubrey McClendon, and President David Boren each released a statement which were never published in print further explaining their position on the issue at hand.

Hughes explained that he had not realized that he was going to be quoted when his comments were made and that they weren’t a fair representation of SDS, but instead his personal opinions.

“After the story came out in the “Daily” people thought we were pompous left wing university liberals,” said Stanley. “It isn’t political. It is about the values and ethics of our university and preserving them.”

“We want to create an atmosphere where students can have a stake in the university, where they are apart of their education,” Stanley said.

This isn’t the first time OU has adopted the name of a business leader to their colleges. The name ‘Gaylord’ is plastered all over campus walls, including the college of journalism and the football stadium. Gaylord is famous for his right-wing conservatism and bias in his newspaper in Oklahoma City.

Some students don’t see how this name change is different than any other and only see it as a business deal.

“You have to follow the money, and the fact that the Honors College didn’t have a name attached, it is expected that its name would change to the appropriate donor,” Kristyn Wagner, Honors College senior and non-profit organization studies minor, said.

“OU has never pandered to their donors,” Wagner said. “OU does values based funding. For instance, here at OU one of our core values is academic freedom so our donors fund us based on matching core values. The donors and institutions work together to find the best fit for each other. The university taking this contribution just means that it was the right fit between the donor and organization.”

This sudden change leaves some students confused on their feelings.

“I don’t know what I want to see happen,” Caitlyn Hutchison, Honors College senior, said. “I would like to believe in the integrity of the Honors College and that a businessman couldn’t influence the way the professors are teaching. But I think that is a na├»ve view.”

As for what happens next, no one is sure. However OU has been known to change the names of buildings because of damaging reputations before.

According to the history of the Black Student Association, OU changed the name Debarr Chemistry Building to the Physical Sciences Center after learning of Edwin Debarr’s association with the Klu Klux Klan. Meaning that perhaps the University will see the need of a reversal in the name change.