(Nancie Battaglia / The New York Times)

October 8, 2015

Paul Smith’s College Funds Hinge on Joan Weill Name

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aul Smith’s College, a small college in upstate New York, may have to turn down a $20 million donation from Joan Weill — the wife of Sanford I. Weill ’55, who endowed Cornell’s medical school and institute for cell molecular biology — because it is legally bound to retain the name it adopted at its founding, according to The New York Times.

(Nancie Battaglia / The New York Times)

(Nancie Battaglia / The New York Times)

In addition to the Weills’ connection to Cornell, Cathy S. Dove, current president of Paul Smith’s College, was also a former vice president at Cornell Tech.

Justice John T. Ellis of the State Supreme Court in Franklin County ruled Wednesday that the college, which is the only four-year institution in six million acres of Adirondack Park, could not change its name to honor a pledge from Joan Weill. The gift, which could be potentially invaluable to the school while it struggles with its finances, is contingent upon the adoption of a new name — Joan Weill-Paul Smith’s College — according to The Times.

The college was originally funded by the will of Phelps Smith, who specified that the institution should be “forever known” by his father’s name. In light of the new potential donation, the college petitioned to be released from the will’s conditions, but their appeal was denied by Ellis, The Times reported.

The decision has not yet been officially filed as of Tuesday night, but Ellis rejected the college’s petition in its entirety, maintaining in his decision that he had considered the college’s financial need but disagreed that the college’s name was holding it back from academic success. The college’s petition had stated that it needed at least $30 million to remedy decreased enrollment and tuition revenue, according to The Times.

There have been diverse reactions to the petition from Paul Smith’s faculty and alumni. While faculty members have been generally supportive of the petition, hundreds of former students emailed the New York attorney general’s office, asking the department to oppose the request, The Times reported. Specifically, many alumni have expressed concern that a name change would damage the school’s integrity and have questioned Mrs. Weill’s philanthropic intentions.

Dove posted a letter to Paul Smith’s College’s website expressing her regret at the court’s decision, but also highlighting the importance of the college’s continuing commitment to its historical legacy.

Mrs. Weill has been involved with the college for over 20 years and has served on the college’s board for over 19 years. Over the decades, she and her husband have donated millions of dollars to the college, funding both a library and student center which now bear her name.

It remains unclear whether Ms. Weill will withdraw her donation now the college’s name will not be changed, The Times reported.