The University of Chicago sells the naming rights of its Economics Department for $125 million

It’s bad enough that the White Sox baseball stadium, once Comiskey Park, then U.S. Cellular Field, is now called “Guaranteed Rate Field” after a mortgage company paid big bucks to rename it. Yes, baseball franchises are greedy, and few major league ballparks don’t bear the names of companies, but really—Guaranteed Rate Field? It sticks in the craw.

But now my own school, The University of Chicago, has renamed an entire department—our renowned Department of Economics—after being given a $125 million donation. This was announced on Leiter Reports (Brian Leiter is a professor at the University of Chicago Law School), and was confirmed in an announcement by the University.

Now it’s true that the $125 million given to the U of C by the The Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund wasn’t just to change the name: most of the dosh, it seems, will go to fund scholarships and research in economics. But you’d better believe that the department isn’t being renamed just out of gratitude for the money. Somebody made a deal to do this:

 In recognition of this gift, the Economics Department will be renamed the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics.

On his website, Leiter asks “whether anyone can think of a similar case where an academic department–not a business school, or a law school, or a medical school–sold naming rights to the department?” Several people give examples, so we’re not unique. Still, we’re the University of Chicago, a school I’m proud to be associated with, and I don’t at all like department names to be sold off like so much chattel. Can you imagine what would happen if this continues? Will my own department be renamed The Monsanto Department of Ecology and Evolution? And can you imagine the Preparation H Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy?


h/t: Greg


  1. David Duncan
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    “Yes, baseball franchises are greedy…”

    Players are greedy too. I continue to be astounded by the transfer fees and “wages” given to European soccer players. I can remember when stadia weren’t named after airlines and there was no advertising on players’ shirts. All this has to be paid for. In the Sixties players would often take the bus hoime after a game and get some fish and chips for dinner.

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    As painful as that last suggested name might be, the name of every game today is money. Everyone and everything seems to have a price. We are all following our form of government in this quest.

  3. Michael Fisher
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Lactaid Dept. of Gas Chromatography

    • barn owl
      Posted November 12, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      That trend could get really ugly, with medical school departments.

  4. Historian
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Without more information, I think it is unfair to claim that the university “sold” naming rights. To say that naming rights were sold, one or both of the following must have taken place.

    1) The university had to have solicited bids from rich entities saying, “Give us a large donation and we’ll name the economics department after you.”

    2) Griffin told the university “I’ll give you a large donation if you name the economics department after me.” And the university agreed. Also, Griffin would have had to make this stipulation out of sheer ego in contrast to the naming rights of sports and other venues bought by businesses, which enter into such agreements based on the premise that they will financially profit from them.

    I think it more likely that the economics department was named after Griffin out of gratitude. But, we can’t know for sure without more information about the negotiations for the gift, if there were any negotiations at all.

    • Craw
      Posted November 12, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Good point.

    • jahigginbotham
      Posted November 12, 2017 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      While not so direct, for buildings at least that seems to be the case. Even to the detail of “the name on the building has to be larger in size than that on the adjacent building”.

  5. Joseph Stans
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne,

    it is only a matter of time now before the The philosophy Department becomes the Ken Ham school of experimental evolution and The Department of Psychology becomes the School of Feministic Thinking.

    You folks go for it. The last bastion of intellectual rigor is falling to the Huns. I will be waiting at an unarmed place in the wilderness for the final conflagration or for the first refugees from learning to show up in ther4e broken down Citrons or flatbed trucks with a cabin built on the back.

    Having been through part of this before, I will be waiting with tea and fresh blueberry pie and a passable wine.

  6. Posted November 12, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Preparation H would want the Department of Proctology, silly!

  7. Jake Sevins
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    If I were a wealthy man, I might try to rename places with ironic or amusing names. A baseball stadium called “Electromagnetic Field”, for example.

    I was once the “Morris Wiener Chair” in my department. I had no idea who the guy was, but he apparently offered a small endowment and that was enough to get my department to prefix my name with his…

    • barn owl
      Posted November 12, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      small endowment


  8. Robert Bray
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Named immortality was a lot cheaper way back when I studied at the U of C. During a major interior renovation of the humanities classroom/office building every nook and cranny could be memorialized for what we students guessed was a few thousand dollars’ donation. Plaques got so numerous that some clever jackanapes put this sign above the coffee pot: ‘The Juan Valdez Memorial Coffee.’

    • Posted November 12, 2017 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      Driving I-90 north to Chicago, read the sign- where a real name should- be and saw “Guaranteed Rate Field.” No one ever calls it that, and their “naming rights” make them a laughingstock. Ridiculous. And Soldier Field remains Soldier Field.

  9. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Harvard has the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. They wanted to expand the department into a designated School with its own facilities, they needed someone to pay for the new building, and Paulson stepped up with $400 million.

    Whether that counts as “selling the naming rights” is, I think, a semantic quibble. You donate nine figures, you expect to get your name on something big. I’m surprised that Leiter is surprised by this.

    • Posted November 12, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Somehow I think that naming the building is much more acceptable, as it is a common practice. But I too find it irksome to name the department after someone. This then implies that the faculty are endorsing whatever that person stood for.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted November 12, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

        So you’d be OK working in a building named after someone, in a school named after someone, at a university named after someone, so long as your department isn’t named after someone?

      • jhs
        Posted November 12, 2017 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        I am not sure if it implies that the faculty are endorsing whatever that person stood for. One may think that the faculty members stand for more money “scholarships and research” for which the funds are designated. What would it imply if the faulty had decided to reject the donation in this case? Is Griffin’s money stained with blood? I don’t know.

  10. simonchicago
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Why is this so different from the naming of “Ryerson Physical Laboratory?” or “Rockefeller Chapel” currently on campus, and named in past centuries?
    Or, to go further back, the family chapels off the main nave of major churches in the Renaissance (see for example “A Renaissance Instrument to Support Nonprofits: The Sale of Private Chapels in Florentine Churches
    Jonathan Katz Nelson and Richard J. Zeckhauser” )

  11. Rob
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think it’s just naming rights that big donors are after. Think of the Koch brothers and related groups funding law schools, etc., with the condition that they also determine the curriculum.

  12. Posted November 12, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    The exchange is in line with the ideology (not science) sold by most Chicago economists.

  13. Craw
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    This has happened in Canadian universities too. I can see why but it does seem cheesy.

    Another case of Universities Behaving Badly is here

    • Posted November 14, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      Are there examples of Canadian *departments*? I could only think of *faculties*, like the (IIRC) faculty of nursing at UofT.

  14. Gordon
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I thought the Chicago School of Economics had sold out to neoclassical capitalism and the banks years ago

  15. Keith Rogers
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    I seriously thought this was a parody headline. A good one, too.

  16. Joe
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Can’t associate with the evil Monsanto! How about the John Templeton School of Evolution, Ecology, Teleology, and Oxford Commas. Two hundred million, all earmarked for emeritus professors to do field work in exotic locales with interesting cuisines. Take that, Freakonomics Department!

  17. alexandra Moffat
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Oh No! Not the respected U of C??!!

    RMH would be appalled ! Also many distinguished graduates and professors!

  18. Posted November 12, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    In my field of plant taxonomy, funding is so limited that people are auctioning off the right to choose the name of newly described species. These names will be permanent (assuming they are published according to all the rules).

    Therefore, I cannot be upset about naming a university department after a donor.

    • David Harper
      Posted November 12, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      In astronomy, there are very strict rules against naming objects after living persons, and these rules are enforced by the International Astronomical Union.

      The only exceptions are comets and asteroids. Comets are named after their discoverer(s), such as Comet Hale-Bopp, although they are also given numerical designations, so Hale-Bopp is formally C/1995 O1.

      Asteroids can be named after living persons, but political or military figures are disallowed until at least 100 years after their death. We won’t see an asteroid named after Donald Tr*mp in our lifetimes, thankfully.

      • Posted November 12, 2017 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

        Does the President know about this? I’m sure an Executive Order could be drafted, but on a grander scale, say The Trump Galaxy in stead of the Milky Way.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted November 12, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

          An executive order sounds right – costs him nowt of the cash he hasn’t got. The negative balance millionaire.

      • Posted November 12, 2017 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

        Botanical and zoological nomenclature have no rules against naming organisms after people. Some individuals are very strongly against it. Others don’t care.

        It is considered just too tacky to name one after oneself, but if have friends, you can work around that.

      • Posted November 14, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        IUPAC has rules for naming elements, too. They had to special case for Seaborg, IIRC.

    • Posted November 12, 2017 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

      I name species after donors who help conserve the places where I discovered them. Naming species after patrons or donors has a long and distinguished history. There are countless old species named “rothschildiana” for example.

    • jahigginbotham
      Posted November 12, 2017 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

      Zoology seems to be a free-for-all.;
      Mineralogy has a procedure and rules against naming things after your friends.

  19. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    “Preparation H” is pretty good on the whole.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted November 12, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink


  20. Posted November 12, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    When I was at the University of Utah, the president came up with a plan to rename the whole Medical School after a donor. There would have been no clear indication that the Medical School was even affiliated with the U. of U. The Medical faculty revolted saying, in essence, “We have established a pretty good reputation as the U. of U. Medical School. We don’t want to lose that name recognition.” The deal was cancelled.

  21. David Harper
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    The universities of Oxford and Cambridge have entire colleges named after wealthy benefactors. This tradition started in medieval times, but money could still buy a college name in the late 20th century: both places have a Wolfson College, which were founded under other names but renamed in honour of Sir Isaac Wolfson after a generous donation.

  22. Posted November 12, 2017 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Naming departments would seem to be the logical next step since many colleges within any given university are already named. One of the better naming stories I heard was about the Keck School of Medicine at USC. David Geffen approached UCLA to see how much Keck gave to have the school named – when given the figure, word has it that Geffen said ‘double it’. And thus we have the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Interesting what a few hundred million will get you.

  23. Posted November 12, 2017 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    What has always puzzled me is that people go along with this sort of renaming. The owners can put whatever name they want to on their stationery, etc., but ordinary people are under no obligation to use the new name, nor is anyone in the media. Candlestick Park never stopped being called Candlestick Park, as far as I was concerned; I just ignored the new names. I also made a point of boycotting the companies that had tried to rename it. If enough people did this, the problem would solve itself.

    • Adam M.
      Posted November 12, 2017 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I still call the football stadium in San Diego “Jack Murphy Stadium” rather than “Qualcomm Stadium”. (Jack Murphy was a sportswriter who build up public support for the stadium. It was named after him when he died.)

      But I’m a nobody, so…

      • Dale Franzwa
        Posted November 13, 2017 at 12:34 am | Permalink

        I suppose you know where the former San Diego Chargers are now playing after skipping town last year? Stub Hub Stadium up in the LA area (while waiting for a new stadium to be built). What an inspiring name(?). So far, the Chargers seem to have stubbed their hub with only three wins against six losses this season. Stub Hub only seats 27,000 and they can’t seem to fill even that measly number.

  24. Posted November 12, 2017 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    If we wait long enough, the newly named buildings or departments will be renamed later when more money is needed or when something offensive becomes associated with the name.

    • Adam M.
      Posted November 12, 2017 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, just start a petition that claims Griffin’s ancestors owned slaves – he is white, so he’s surely guilty of something – and that the University of Chicago is being racist. 😛

  25. Stephen Barnard
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    It’s not quite the same, and not nearly as unseemly, but The Rockefeller University is joined at the hip with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

  26. Simon Hayward
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    You already have the Pritzker School of Medicine at UofC (a member of that family is currently running for Governor), is this different in any essential way? The Lurie family provided similar support at Northwestern, I assume. There is the Ben May Cancer Center (I have no idea who Ben May was, but the esteemed Dr. Huggins started that enterprise in the 1950s, so it’s not a new thing).

    …and the other baseball field in the city is named for chewing gum of all things 🙂

  27. Posted November 13, 2017 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    Whatever happened to Houston’s Enron Field? Oh, I see it is now Minute Maid Park. At least Minute Maid is still selling orange juice, though it is actually just a brand owned by Coca-Cola.

  28. jahigginbotham
    Posted November 13, 2017 at 1:39 am | Permalink

    $200 million to UCI for among other things, Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences.
    That’s not just naming, it is selling out to quackery.

  29. Richard
    Posted November 13, 2017 at 3:37 am | Permalink

    Wolfson, Oxford, was originally Iffley College, I recall, then in the sixties the Wolfson Foundation put up the money for new college buildings on a new site (which included the former residence of JBS Haldane) and the college was re-named.

    I was a post-grad there, many years ago. Oh, happy days of my youth, punting on the Cherwell!

    • Richard
      Posted November 13, 2017 at 3:38 am | Permalink

      That was meant to be a reply to #21.

  30. bobkillian
    Posted November 13, 2017 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    “And can you imagine the Preparation H Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy?”

    They’d do it for piles of money.

  31. Curtis
    Posted November 13, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    $125,000,000 comes to almost $8000 per student. If U of C could a dozen of the donations, I think it would cure the tuition cost problem.

    • Posted November 14, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      CMU recently (a few years ago) got what the alumni magazine called the biggest gift to a university ever. I worked out that they could give free ride to all incoming undergraduates for a few years with or the like …

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