Friday, December 02, 2011

Whatever Happened To The Herman B Wells Rule?

A fellow law colleague  and IU alumnus reminded me of an old rule of the famed long-time Indiana University Chancellor, Herman B Wells, for naming anything in honor of a person: "Nothing gets named for nobody until they are dead for 5 years." Twice now in the past three years Wells' time-proven rule has been turned on its head by Indiana University administrators. In 2008, university officials renamed the Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington the Michael Maurer School of Law after real estate mogul, attorney, banker and Indianapolis Business Journal publisher Michael "Mickey" Maurer donated $35 million to the law school. Yesterday, officials at IU's sister law school in Indianapolis renamed the school after banker and attorney Robert McKinney after the school announced he had donated nearly one third less the amount Maurer gave to the Bloomington law school three years ago, or $24 million. The Indiana University School of Law--Indianapolis will now be known as the Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

As a 1993 graduate of the Indiana University School of Law--Indianapolis, I'm really not keen on the idea of referring to my alma mater by the name of someone who has had a debatable impact on the practice of law. Many graduates of the Bloomington law school felt similarly about the renaming of their law school after someone who really has spent little of his life practicing law, although he has been an extremely successful businessman. It seems even more unseemly renaming a school in some one's honor simply because they had the money to buy that right. If money is all that matters, why not allow a Coca-Cola or a Microsoft to buy the naming rights to our universities and educational institutions? 

I suspect Wells' rule, though, had more to do with the opportunity for reflection on the life-time contributions of a person before bestowing a great honor on them by naming something in their honor. Nowhere is the value of applying that rule more apparent than the case of a high profile former Colorado sheriff, Patrick Sullivan, who was arrested  earlier this week on suspicion of trying to trade drugs to a man for sex, as investigators monitored the deal. Sullivan is being held at the Patrick J. Sullivan Jr. Detention Facility named in his honor. Many have argued for years that former President Richard Nixon acted in haste in naming the headquarters of the FBI in honor of its famed long-time director, J. Edgar Hoover, only two days after his death. There have been repeated efforts over the years to strip his name from the building, including the efforts of Indiana's U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, because of disclosures following his death about the abusive and illegal surveillance he conducted against many Americans during his tenure as FBI Director. For my part, I vote to reinstate the Herman B. Wells rule, not that I expect it to make any difference in the decisions of IU's administrators today, who seem totally driven by dollar signs over principle.

UPDATE: An IU alumnus reminds me that there is no period after the "B" for Wells' middle name. Apparently that was another rule about which Wells was a real stickler.


guy77money said...

Maybe McDonald's could get the naming rights for a heart center. Their food helps the place stay in business. Hmm the opportunities are endless! :)

Marycatherine Barton said...

I wish Indiana University would have continued to follow the Herman B Wells Rule, snd had not named either of its law schools after persons, even wealthy contributors, especially bankers.

Anonymous said...

Don't fret. By end of 2012, the truth will come out about Maurer, and it won't be pretty.