Letter to the editor

January 15, 2014

I wish to take advantage of the invitation in Lizzy Balboa’s column in Monday’s LANTHORN and respond to the discussion regarding naming rights of large donors to GVSU and the role of free speech and critical thinking in the GVSU community. When I arrived at GVSC (sic) in 1970 there were three person-named buildings: Seidman House, Zumberge Library, and the Loutit Hall of Science. Of those, at least one was named in honor of our first president, one after a donor (foundation), and the third may have been either an honorary or a donor naming (since Bill Seidman is regarded as THE founder of the university as well as a philanthropist). Since then, many but not all of the newer campus buildings on all of our campuses have been named for donors –as is the increasing trend in universities and community buildings across the country. Even the major bowl games (with the happy exception of the Rose Bowl) have taken on corporate sponsors in their titles.

Personally I have no problem with GVSU honoring our major donors with buildings and even floors (e.g., in CHS) named after them. There may, however, be a point at which naming every room in every building in a donor’s name may seem like overkill to members of the GVSU community. I wonder what the donors themselves feel about this issue. Neither the vice-presidents’ joint open letter, printed last December in the LANTHORN, nor any of the editorial pieces from the LANTHORN staff give any donor feedback –only speculations.

We do have a precedent that may lead to a more compatible arrangement. Some of the rooms in certain GVSU buildings have been named for some of the University’s most dedicated faculty/staff members. We have the Mary Seeger Reading Room in the Niemeyer Academic and Living Center (the building name itself being a great example of this). We have the P. Douglas Kindschi Conference Room in Padnos Hall of Science, and several departments have named reading or study rooms for their faculty and students after longtime professors. Perhaps the first example of this was the Johnny Lucke Reading Room in 122 of the old Loutit Hall of Science (by coincidence my first GVSC office), named for one of our most beloved early faculty members. Perhaps our donors could do what is done at many religious houses of worship and make donations in honor (or memory) of someone on the GVSU staff and allow the room to be named after that honored person. The mix of donor names and important figures from GVSU’s past would assure our continuing interest in GVSU history as well as recognition of our philanthropic donors without whose generosity GVSU would not be nearly the place it has become. (Who was Johnny Lucke or Mary Seeger anyway?)

But a far bigger issue that I shall just barely touch upon here is the notion of GVSU’s being an institution dedicated to the principles of critical thinking, exposure to different points of view, and supporting free discussions on all sides of controversial issues. It may not have been politically wise to question the motives or some of our donors, but it certainly is within the rights and duties of a free press to raise issues of concern to the community.

The Grand Rapids area is no stranger to the issues raised by Lizzy and her editorial board. The GR PRESS in the past has raised similar questions via letters to the editor and columns pro and con about naming so many of the buildings in downtown GR and elsewhere after our philanthropists. We all agree that without their generosity GR would not be the place it is. That does not mean that we cannot discuss this issue in an open way. We all also recognize that occasionally a donor’s stand on an issue can affect university policy. Many of us remember the first attempt on campus to allow same sex partner benefits. I believe Lizzy and her staff should be commended to taking a risk and making this issue a valid one for community-wide discussion. Her last paragraph in Monday’s column sums up the situation better than I can.

In closing let me divulge that I have been one of Lizzy’s academic advisors for several years and I am currently one of her class instructors. Regardless, I wholeheartedly believe that her cause is just and her actions a benefit to liberal arts education at Grand Valley State University.

Sheldon J. Kopperl,

Professor of Biomedical Sciences and Liberal Studies

102 LOH