In a move described as “taking naming rights a step further,” the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota is looking to form a close partnership with a private business. According to President Mark Benedetto, the corporate partner would not only get to put their name on the school’s sports stadium, but also work closely with the university’s academic programs.
In some ways, USF would become an extension of the business in question. The logo would go on the school’s stationary, and the relationship would carry financial benefits for the company, as the school would become one of its clients. In return, employees would have the run of the campus, including access to the gym and pool.
Benedetto recognizes that this kind of symbiosis is uncommon in higher education, but believes that with the new economic reality in the wake of the financial collapse of 2007 and economic recession of 2008, school-corporate partnerships will be the way forward for smaller private schools like USF.
Benedetto did not not indicate how any relationship would affect university governance.
John Hausaman, spokesman for the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the agency that accredits USF, declined to speak specifically about USF’s plan and whether such a relationship with a corporate partner would threaten the school’s accreditation. But he pointed to the agency’s general accrediting criteria. Among these are requirements that signal caution in dealings with donors.
The terms of USF accreditation dictate that the school’s governing board have the autonomy to make decisions in the best interest of the institution and its students. In addition, the board must not allow donors, officials or lawmakers too much of a voice in how the school is run. Rob Oliver, who is the president of Augustana College – another small SD school – says that his institution meets these requirements by only approaching entities that align closely with the school’s mission.
“We seek partnerships and collaboration with people who value our mission and who understand what we do,” he said.
“Whenever we have sponsorships or gifts that result in naming opportunities and things like that, typically it is because somebody believes in what we do, believes in our mission and values what we produce as an institution.
“That’s what you’re really seeking. What you are not seeking is someone who might control what you do.”
According to Jodi Schwan and Peter Harriman of the Argus Leader, Benedetto already plans to follow the same guidelines choosing which company to approach.