Walsh, Healy ... McCourt?
Published: Friday, September 27, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 27, 2013 04:09
Joseph Mark Lauinger was a 1967 graduate who died in the Vietnam War. Fr. Patrick Healy, S.J., was the first university president of mixed-race ancestry and united the Hilltop after the Civil War. Eleanor Darnall was an advocate for Catholic education and the mother of Georgetown founder John Carroll.
Thomas Healey (CAS ’67) is a billionaire investment banker and the benefactor behind the Healey Family Student Center. Frank McCourt Jr. (CAS ’75) is a billionaire real estate tycoon and former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers who will soon have his name on the McCourt School of Public Policy.
The practice of naming buildings after benefactors is nothing new, and McCourt and the Healey family have graciously given enormous donations to their alma mater, it does, however, raise an important question for the university: Are those immortalized on Georgetown’s campus remembered for their merit or their money?
The placement of one’s name on a building or school is a powerful symbol. As institutions seek more donors to fund new facilities, the association between building names and recognition has increasingly correlated with an abundance of wealth, rather than esteem. Compare, for instance, Fr. Edmund Walsh, S.J., who not only founded the School of Foreign Service but also spent many years as its first regent, to McCourt, whose ties to the public policy institute that will bear his name are almost exclusively monetary.
The natural follow-up question, of course, is whether a university should preserve nomenclatural prestige at the expense of philanthropy. It is a tricky question and perhaps an unnecessary one.
In an effort to act in accordance with tradition, the university has nobly evaded the temptation of a number of collegiate trends: The Common Application, binding early decision programs and university-sponsored Greek life, for example. Catholic tradition and Jesuit ideals are still central to the Georgetown psyche, and big donations don’t necessarily run afoul of that, except when naming a building for its donor is part of a quid pro quo.
If the answer is yes, then it’s inarguable that accepting these donations in exchange for naming privileges has benefits that outweigh potential downsides. For instance, while McCourt might not personify Georgetown’s Jesuit values, the incredible resources that will come with his public policy school are certainly worthwhile.
Donations have the potential to transform a university. With these high stakes, a name can rightfully seem like an afterthought. Yet Carroll, Healy, Bunn, Walsh, O’Donovan and many others form an elite club, and it’s worth taking note that membership is up for sale.