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University to revise Philanthropic and Service Naming Procedures

The procedural changes will support the 2018 naming policy.

The naming of university assets or property for service or philanthropy is a well-established custom at Queen's University. From naming academic chairs and awards to buildings and gardens, Queen's, like many universities, has welcomed the opportunity to honour people for outstanding service to the university, our community, country or internationally, or for generous gifts toward the construction or restoration of buildings, the establishment of endowed chairs, and the development of programs.

As per the Queen’s naming policy, the decision to accept or decline any new proposal to name an entity at the university or to discontinue or transfer an existing named space rests with the university’s Board of Trustees.

To ensure the university’s philanthropic practices were up to date, Queen’s naming policy was reviewed in 2018. An update to the naming procedures, which supports the policy, has now been implemented as the next step to ensure Queen’s is aligned with current best practices.

“Across the sector we are increasingly grappling with issues such as terms and naming thresholds, how to deal with recognition after a divorce, or how due diligence is performed and by whom,” says Karen Bertrand, Vice-Principal (Advancement). “Regular reviews help to ensure our policies and procedures advance with society, reflect current best practices, and that nominees are properly vetted.”

Even with extensive due diligence, honorees, and by extension universities, can encounter reputational issues when a donation is called into question. Queen’s faced just such a dilemma when David Radler, a prominent Canadian newspaper publisher, was convicted of mail fraud in 2005. He and his media companies had donated almost a million dollars, and a wing in the business school at Queen’s bore his name.  

At the board’s direction, Mr. Radler’s name was immediately removed from the building wing, and his personal donation was returned. Subsequently, the university discovered that returning charitable gifts is impossible under Canada Revenue Agency regulations, which prevented the return of the donations from the various media companies. To make matters more complex, some of the companies themselves were no longer in operation, and others did not wish the gift returned in any case. While the board’s ethical decision was rightly lauded, the complexities of the gift, and the uncertainty about the rules at the time, created lingering confusion.

After careful consideration and in consultation with Osprey Media (which now owned many of the companies that had made the original donations), it was agreed that in spirit Queen’s had returned the gift and Osprey had made an equivalent donation; Osprey is now recognized on the wall of the business school at the level of the donation.

Fortunately, notes Bertrand, these sorts of incidents are extremely rare. “The vast majority of our gifts are from exceptional people who have done amazing things in their lives and just want to give back – but the exceptions demonstrate why it is so important we take our policies and processes seriously.”

The review of the procedure document began in June of 2019 with research and consultation taking place with peer institutions across the U15 university membership and beyond. The process is expected to be complete in February 2020. It will then be submitted to the Board of Trustees for approval, after which it will be posted on the Secretariat’s webpage alongside the naming policy.