How the Grinch Stole Christmas: A Response to “Green Eggs and Ham: Strategies to Address the Growing Phenomenon of Selling a Medical School’s Name”

By: Steven D. Blair, vice president of development, University of South Florida, and Charles J. Lockwood, MD, dean, Morsani College of Medicine, senior vice president of USF Health, and professor of obstetrics and gynecology, University of South Florida

Every Who
Down in Who-ville
Liked Philanthropy a lot…

But the Grinches,
Who lived just North of Who-ville
Did NOT!

Fundraising plays an essential role in supporting not-for-profit educational institutions. Indeed, we have a nearly four-century tradition of diverting surplus capital generated by the free enterprise system to support research and educational endeavors. Moreover, such giving has long stimulated economic growth by educating our workforce and promoting scientific discoveries.

The article “Green Eggs and Ham: Strategies to Address the Growing Phenomenon of Selling a Medical School’s Name” does not rebuke philanthropy entirely. Rather, it reiterates the point, first made by the authors in 2008, that renaming a medical school “may” negatively affect brand recognition and students and faculty, by allowing “public goods” to be “effectively purchased by wealthy donors.” However, the authors fail to demonstrate a single example of resultant biased training or undue donor influence on institutional objectives. Nor do they indicate what donors actually “purchase” when making such a gift, which of course is the fundamental purpose of sales. While consequences to accepting philanthropic money do exist, most universities have a separate 501c(3) foundation to protect both the institution and the donor. This mechanism protects the $10 gift and the $100,000,000 gift, no matter the donor’s intent.

Between 2000 and 2014, more than $1.6 billion was gifted to help build 18 medical schools. Of these, 17 renamed their school to recognize the donor(s). From 1984 – 1999, $329 million was provided and 7 medical schools were renamed. Additionally, 8 medical schools were named or renamed for elected officials, physicians, scientists, foundations, and religious figures without a specific gift being made. In not one case was a conflict of interest documented, undue influence exerted on faculty, or demonstrable damage done to their brand.

Today all mission areas of academic medicine are under severe fiscal constraints. Student indebtedness is at an all-time high, limiting revenue increases from tuition while state support plunges. Similarly, funding from the National Institutes of Health has fallen since 2003. Most concerning, clinical margins are under pressure both from the rise of consumer-directed health plans with high deductibles and co-insurance rates in public and private exchanges and from the loss of Disproportionate Share Hospital payments, which,  in many states, has been accompanied by a failure to expand Medicaid coverage. For many academic health centers and medical schools, philanthropy has literally saved the day.

Many institutions, including the Ivies, would not exist were it not for donors. For example, Brown, Yale, and Harvard were named for 17th and 18th century donors. Extraordinary facilities across the U.S. were built without state funds and without raising tuition. According to the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, about 40% of donors’ gifts to schools went to capital projects in 2013, down 46% from 2003.

Yet more individual donors are pouring their contributions into scholarships and research. By an overwhelming margin, the gifts that resulted in renaming the 25 named medical schools were used to establish research endowments, scholarship funds, and clinical programs. Only one gift was singled out for construction, five for a combination of construction and endowment/research, and 11 for programs and endowment.

Few, if any, of these contributions originated with the need for recognition. The desire to make a difference and to help provide for a better future has long been the most common rationales for such giving. Development professionals spend countless hours engaging and connecting individuals and their passions to an institution. Ideas often start small and grow. Naming a college is never the starting point, and most often that specific opportunity is brought up by the institution as a way to recognize the donor and illustrate for future generations the importance of selfless giving.

All universities have guidelines on the acceptance of gifts at all levels. Integral to these is what the donor hopes to accomplish with their contribution. This fundamental safeguard is designed to ensure the donors’ wishes are maintained long after they are gone. This same level of protection is also afforded the institution. Gift agreements between donors and universities address situations about how the money can be spent, how to respond if scandal strikes, who has authority to change the purpose, and what, if any, conditions might exist for a refund. Thus, the proposed mitigation strategies proposed by Falit et al have long been de rigueur.

We agree that renaming a space for a donor must be thoughtfully executed. We simply request that the true purpose of philanthropy be honored. We can all rest a little easier knowing that generous individuals have for generations paved the way for academic success at all levels.

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?
Philanthropy can come without conditions! It comes without tags!
Philanthropy can come without packages, boxes or bags!?”
And he puzzled three hours, ’till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Philanthropy,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Philanthropy…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
And what happened then…?
Well…in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch’s small heart
Grew three sizes that day!



  1. Dr. Seuss. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. New York, New York; Random House Books for Young Readers; 1957.
  2. Weinberg, C.  Not Everyone Happy with Company Names on Business School Buildings.  Bloomberg Businessweek.  June 23, 2014. Accessed July 28, 2014.

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