It’s easy to forget that “South Campus Residence Hall” isn’t the actual name of the south campus residence hall. The title is more like a placeholder as the dormitory awaits its real name, to be chosen by the first person that donates enough money to receive the honor.
But more than a year after the dorm’s grand opening, the “for sale” sign slapped where an actual name should be is getting embarrassing. It’s especially frustrating because there are many Chicago alums whose names are worthy of dorm glory, except for the inconvenient fact that their pursuits have not afforded them millions of dollars in pocket change.
The University has a history of naming buildings after people who made monetary contributions to the school. The Mansueto Library and Logan Arts Center are both projects that are only possible with their respective donors’ contributions. So it makes sense that they were named for the philanthropists who made such important campus developments possible.
However, the University also has a much longer, and seemingly forgotten, history of naming buildings after alumni who distinguished themselves through the slightly less lucrative method of devoting their lives to careers in public service and academia. Whatever happened to the days when we named B-J and all its houses after distinguished professors?
As far as naming a new dorm goes, there certainly isn’t a lack of options. Students who walked the same courtyards and corridors as us have gone on to become some of the most pivotal figures of their generation. People like former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens helped shape the core tenets of thought for an entire era. Luminaries like Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and Susan Sontag cultivated the humanities with their wit and reason. Robert Millikan and Carl Sagan stood at the center of a science—driven century. These people, all alumni or former professors, fundamentally altered the fabric of their society. Would it not be appropriate to honor them?
The current system makes financial sense, but it also marks a sad transition for a university renowned for its unabashed pursuit of intellectualism. Money should not be the sole prerequisite for the branding of a campus building. Naming the dorm for a distinguished alum, rather than a donor, would establish a noble precedent, one that could be financially beneficial as well. Why not use the name as a fundraiser of sorts, as an idea, a purpose toward which donors can contribute?
For better or for worse, the University is a business. After all, intellectualism can get quite expensive. A balance between financial practicality and academic idealism is necessary and even productive. But it’s bad business to make such greedy intentions—the cash-cow naming of a dorm well after it was built—absolutely transparent. So, administration: Continue funding the life of the mind with the generosity of donors, but know when to move on. Take the loss on SCRH and name it for someone who did something for humanity. The University has a perfect opportunity to capitalize on the prestige that comes with producing some of the finest minds in history. Naming SCRH for an alum will imbue a dormitory that symbolizes the future with the pride of our University’s past.
And when the first-years move in each fall, they’ll at least have one reminder that there are worthwhile jobs off Wall Street, that they are a continuation of a legacy that has enriched the world for decades, and that they’ve come to a place where people still value contributions made by means other than a check.
The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and one other Editorial Board member.