The growing number of buildings at the nation’s top-ranked university that are named by or after corporate donors has raised concern that the practice may cost the school its academic freedom by putting it under the thumb of conglomerates.
At a National Taiwan University (NTU) council meeting held on Saturday, history professor Chou Wan-yao (周婉窈) called on the university to find a happy medium between raising funds for developing its facilities and maintaining its autonomy.
“Most prestigious universities overseas name their buildings after academic heavyweights or deceased individuals to honor their contributions. However, the majority of buildings erected at NTU in recent years are dedicated to the businessmen who donated funds for their construction,” Chou said.
Chou said that while it was undeniable that the university needs to source external funding for new buildings, she was vexed by the thought of students being surrounded solely by edifices bearing the names of conglomerates.
Another professor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, voiced similar concerns, citing internal regulations entitling financial contributors to name the venue they are funding and also to have a say in how it should be used.
“Such regulations could fuel the perception that ‘money is everything’ and raise concerns that academics may end up serving corporations and losing their autonomy,” the professor said.
In response, Principal Yan Pan-chyr (楊泮池) said that he acknowledged the need to revise the school’s donation guidelines and make them more specific.
Office of General Affairs Dean Wang Gen-shuh (王根樹) said that according to the school’s Regulation on Expressing Gratitude to Accepted Donations, a contributor will be granted the privilege of naming a structure if their donation covers more than half of the construction cost.
“Fewer than 10 of the school’s 500 buildings are named by their donors, which is a small percentage,” Wang said.
Secretary-General Lin Ta-te (林達德) said that most of the US’ elite group of Ivy League schools are private and extremely dependent on corporate contributions, hence a large proportion of their teaching centers or meeting halls are named after business tycoons.
“For instance, almost every building surrounding the College of Arts and Science of my alma mater, Cornell University, bear the names of their financial contributors. It has become a trend,” Lin said.
While some of the NTU buildings’ nomenclatures represent the donors or their companies, others carry educational significance, Lin said, citing the College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science’s Po Li Hall, which is homophonous with the name of one of its funders — Quanta Group chairman Barry Lam (林百里) — but is also short for bo xue duo li (博學多理), which means “being knowledgeable and well-informed.”