Since coming to Bowdoin and spending my freshman year in West Hall, I've always wondered when and how buildings, rooms and even trees on campus receive their names, and more importantly, how I could leave my name behind.
As a first year, I quickly found out, to my great disappointment, that West Hall is not named for one of the greatest men to portray Batman on TV, but rather for a cardinal direction. Its twin, East Hall, was renamed Osher shortly before I arrived. This disappointment had an LEED certified silver lining of hope: I could put my name on West Hall. I quickly decided to abandon the moniker "Hall," it being far too mundane for my ambitions, and instead posed the question, "what would it take to name West Hall Sanville Manor?"
The answer is: A LOT.
As Elizabeth Orlic, associate vice president and Bowdoin's director of leadership gifts, told me in an email exchange, "every named building project is the unique, organic outcome of a careful matching process—through many conversations between the donor, development staff, the president of the College, trustees or others—of the donor's interests with the College's needs at that time." A standard process for having a building named after you, perhaps one that requires only a couple forms and a very large check, does not exist.
Apparently I would also have to be a good person as well. Take Osher Hall for example, named for successful businessman and educational philanthropist Bernard Osher of the Class of 1948. After graduating from Bowdoin, Osher became the founding director of Golden West Financial, which operated bank branches as World Savings Bank, and quickly became the second largest savings institution in the United States. The company was bought by Wachovia in 2008.
Yet it was not Osher's absurd wealth—he was once listed as the 548th richest man in the world by Forbes—that led Bowdoin to approach him about becoming the namesake for the building, it was his generous philanthropy.
In 2007, Business Week listed Bernard Osher as the 11th most generous philanthropist, citing the $805 million he has given in support of the arts and education. To put this in context, Bowdoin's endowment currently hovers at around $900 million.
The Bernard Osher Foundation supports students in need of financial aid throughout Maine and Northern California; it provides funding for students who want to finish their degree but have had a significant break in their studies; it underwrites 117 lifelong learning institutes across the United States; it funds the education of community college students in California; and the foundation also supports community arts and education in Maine and the Bay Area.
My discussion with the development administration's newest member, Kelly Kerner, senior vice president for development and alumni relations, was not encouraging. Kerner emphasized that after only 57 days on the job, he could only speak generally about the policies of higher education institutions and not specifically about Bowdoin.
According to Kerner, generally, "to name a building...it's usually about 50 percent of the cost of the building," though a building may simply be named after people "of historical importance [to the institution] or in gratitude for service."
Kerner said that sometimes colleges or universities might look to name a building as part of a capital campaign. Kerner emphasized that most donors prefer to have their philanthropy remembered in other ways, but I already know that I'm not going to be like most donors.
My hopes were dashed when I sat down with President Barry Mills, who remained unconvinced by the billions I will be making shortly after college.
"One of the most important aspects of my job is to protect the reputation of the College," said Mills. "Sometimes you hear of other institutions naming buildings and then there being some scandal or outcry around it. That is the last thing I want to happen at Bowdoin."
He emphasized that the process of naming a building depends heavily on the reputation of the benefactor. As if to compound my difficulties, Mills seems to be above bribery. When I sat down for an interview with him about this matter, I had prepared for the interview by writing a check for $100 billion made out to Bowdoin College. I was prepared to offer it to President Mills at the end of the interview.
However, after hearing his reasoning against simply slapping donor names on buildings, and after reviewing my campus weekend activities over the past couple years, I decided that I may not have the type of reputation the College wants to attach to a first year dorm.
However, if President Mills ever changes his mind about protecting the prestige of the College, my check is still waiting for him.
Chris Sanville is a member of the Class of 2012.