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Sunday, July 23, 2006

SOUND OFF: A TAINTED NAME?

The Roger D. Blackwell Inn, at Ohio State University in Columbus, is named after a former marketing professor who pledged $7 million to fund the building. Blackwell was subsequently convicted of insider trading and other financial crimes, but according to The Columbus Dispatch university officials "appear uninterested" in renaming the inn. The paper notes that so far Blackwell has given only about $1.4 million and that, given the cost of his appeal, little more likely will be forthcoming.

Given that Blackwell has been convicted of actions that the university would hardly encourage among its students, should his name be taken off the building? Or shouldn’t it matter, as long as the promised money is in fact given?

What do you think?

Send your thoughts to rightthing@nytimes.com or post them by clicking on "comments" below. Please include your name, your hometown and the name of the newspaper in which you read this column. Readers’comments may appear in an upcoming column.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today’s Business" (Spiro Press, 2003), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of http://jeffreyseglin.blogspot.com, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 609 Greenwich St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610.

16 comments:

yawningdog said...

If the building was finished and completely paid for, I'd say leave it as a reminder that people can do good and bad things. Since it isn't built, is going to need a new sponsor to get it built, and the crime seems to have been happening at the same time as the pedge for funding, I'd suggest the school start beating the bushes for another 7 million and a new name to hang on the facade.

Anonymous said...

The only reason that the university should consider changing the name involves the nature of Blackwell's crime. If the crime were something unrelated to money, then the name should not be changed. But if, under the circumstances, there is good reason to believe that all or part of the $7 million is stolen, then the university should not accept it. That money rightfully belongs to others and should be returned. The idea that funds donated to a university should not be ill-gotten gains is an expectation that goes without saying and if Blackwell has attempted to do so, then he has violated his part of the agreement so the building should not be named for him.
The original agreement between the university and Blackwell appears to have been as simple as "you give us $7 million and we will name the building after you." Therefore if Blackwell gives OSU seven million untainted dollars, the university should honor their part of the bargain and keep the name as is. Besides if they do change the name because of Blackwell's conviction, that would raise the question of how many other people with campus buildings named after them have behaved less than perfectly. Should their names be taken off their buildings too? Whoever said that college buildings had to be named after people with spotless character? It seems to me that the only thing that has ever been required is a very deep pocket.

Ms. Gina Patacca
Columbus, Ohio

Anonymous said...

My name is Lauren Kramer and I am a long-time reader of your Columbus “The Right Thing” in the Columbus Dispatch. As an MBA and Human Resources Director, I enjoy reading the comments from your readers and the often thought-provoking discussions on ethics in your column. This is the first time I have been compelled to write.

As an alumna of The Ohio State University and current member of the Alumni Association, I can assure you that the topic of renaming the Blackwell Inn has been discussed on many levels. Because Roger Blackwell was not officially convicted of a crime until a couple of months ago, the University had tabled discussion on relinquishing the naming rights of the building. It is my understanding that they are currently in the process of seeking out a donor or donors for this purpose. In the large bureaucracy that is this academic institution, sometimes these things take longer than the public wants them to.

At one time, Roger Blackwell was a much respected man at Ohio State University and in the marketing and retail industries. Taking one of his marketing classes was one of the highlights of my undergraduate education. I believe that I can speak for many that it is a true shame that Mr. Blackwell felt that he was above the law and was compelled to make decisions that not only landed him in prison but has also tarnished his reputation as a business leader and academic at Ohio State.

I believe that the sooner the university changes the name of the Blackwell Inn the better. The Fisher College of Business at the Ohio State University is one of the premier business schools in the country. The Fisher College houses and operates the Blackwell Inn. In order to continue to further its growth, recognition, and ranking, it needs to distance itself from people that do not uphold the integrity and ethics of the program and university. Our school motto is “Knowledge for citizenship.” Roger Blackwell is no longer representative of this idea.

Sincerely,

Lauren J Kramer
Ohio State University Class of 2000
Columbus, Ohio

Anonymous said...

In response to your question of July 23rd, The Ohio State University should absolutely remove Mr. Blackwell's name from the business center following his conviction on insider trading charges. Further, the university should return the $1.3M donated to Mr. Blackwell. The same would hold true if the entire pledge was received. This should be treated the same way as when a politician discovers they have inadvertently obtained "tainted" donations (as in the case of the coin dealer Tom Noe in Toledo, Ohio and his contributions to the 2004 Bush campaign).

I am a broker-dealer Compliance Officer and registered representative, so I understand the gravity of the crime that Mr. Blackwell was convicted of...it attacks the underpinnings of our free market system. I do not see how a business school can have its centerpiece building (or any other for that matter) named after someone who has set the exact opposite example of ethical behaviour that should be impressed upon budding business leaders.

Best regards,

Matthew Wolfe
President, Wolfe Planning, LLC
www.wolfeplanning.com

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, I do not usually think you drop the ball in the column, but unless I am mistaken, this one is a woofer. You ask about the Blackwell Inn at Ohio State. The facts are these:
OSU named the building after Roger D. Blackwell
Blackwell had agreed to kick in $7 million to pay for it
He has kicked in $1.4 million
He has also been convicted of all sorts of nasty stuff, none of which does OSU want to endorse

But the question can’t be, should OSU take his name off the building, unless there is no contract between OSU and Blackwell. Maybe there isn’t, but that would be a real surprise (what were either of the parties thinking?). Under the plausible assumption that there is, OSU must abide by that contract. If Blackwell holds up his end, they must hold up theirs. If he doesn’t, they shouldn’t. If there is such a contract, I can’t see why that wouldn’t settle the moral question.

There might a further question: suppose the contract allows OSU to opt out or rescind the contract, even if Blackwell performs. Then the question might be: should it? Even if this entails returning the $7 million? That is a good question, and I can imagine some people thinking that, no matter what that $7 million paid for, OSU would be better off without it. My point, however, is that it makes sense to ask that question only once we have ascertained that they aren’t governed by contract. I’d think the obligation to do what we say we are going to do is in almost all cases (certainly in this one) an overriding consideration.

Best,

Mark LeBar
--
Mark LeBar
Philosophy
Ohio University

Anonymous said...

Lets take the BACJWELL name off the hotel, however Prof Blackwell is
appealing his conviction so the University might think if he wins his
appeal, that he might be able to pay off his pledge?
The University does have a convicted felon on the Board of Trustees, i.e.
the states gov.
Its a sorry state of affair. JB

Anonymous said...

Mr. Blackwell's name should definitely be taken off the building.

Ruth Wagner in Madison, Wisconsin

Anonymous said...

Mr. Seglin,

I read your column in The Columbus Dispatch every Sunday and I most of the time agree 100%. I think what you have to say about modern day ethics is very interesting. I felt compelled to respond today to your "Sound-off" about the Blackwell Inn on OSU's campus. I've been a graduate student and lecturer at OSU since 1998. I'm working on my Ph.D. in Medieval English literature. The Blackwell Inn is a stunning brick building almost directly across the street from the 'shoe (the football stadium). It is attached to the business school, and is where OSU houses many of its important guests. All of that being said, I think they ought to rip the name off the building and rename it anything. Anything at all... (heck, even Brutus' Nut Hut would be better!) I also wonder if they should accept any more money from him or his estate (if there is any to be had). This is why: Blackwell has been accused of, and found guilty of, essentially cheating. During my tenure at OSU I (and most of my colleagues) have seen countless (and I'm not using that word lightly) examples of cheating. Because I teach English classes, I have primarily seen cheating in the form of plagiarism. Having a convicted criminal's name on the building is just too much irony to bear. I love OSU. I have had a (mostly) wonderful experience there both in terms of my own education and my participation in the teaching of students. Most of the students are interested in learning, or at least interested in learning as much as they have to for their degree. But more and more students are more interested in passing than learning and much more invested in college as a "have to do it" means to an end rather than an end in and of itself. Countless polls have told us (that I've seen, and I wish I could quote them for you) that students believe that cheating is okay. There are hundreds of "buy a paper" websites out there, and who knows how many other ways to cheat. All of this is appalling, and while OSU does what it can to cope with such cheating, I still think that it isn't enough. (Heck, I'd be for public listing of convicted offenders in the Lantern every week, but that's just me.)

So, because of the rampant cheating I have seen on OSU's campus (and I'm sure it happens all over the place, OSU is not alone in this) I think that it is crucial that the administration take some action and publicly distance itself from Blackwell. Heck, I'd be all for an un-naming ceremony where OSU strips the name. Kind of an anti-opening. His ethical violations are merely symptomatic of a huge trend in this nation of people who want success but are not particularly interested in getting it with work. The attitude seems to be "it's only wrong if you get caught!" Trust me, from what I've seen, the current students are learning that lesson clearly. Though I think it would ultimately do little to actually stop cheating, it would be good to see that there are, on occasion, some public ramifications for such acts.

--Emily Leverett
Lecturer- The Ohio State University - Newark

Anonymous said...

As a graduate of and contributor to The Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University, I couldn't resist responding to your request for
responses related to renaming The Blackwell Inn. The University should
take a pragmatic approach and avoid lurching from one bad situation into another. First, it is important to recognize that The Blackwell has a fine reputation as a first class hotel in a city where quality hotels are not easy to come by. The Blackwell is a catchy and dignified name not readily associated by the vast majority of folks outside of Columbus with Prof. Blackwell, a legend only in his own mind. Second, Prof. Blackwell is viewed locally as more fool than scoundrel, having completely missed the sea-change in attitude towards insider trading by corporate officers and directors and wholly underestimated the willingness and aptitude of the
federal government to prosecute insider trading cases. Worse, as a
professor of marketing at a major university he seems to have been completely unaware that today's computer modeling and technologies make detection of insider trading a "walk in the park" for NASDAQ, the securities exchanges and enforcement authorities. Finally, given the pandering propensity of OSU to grant tasteless naming rights (Value City Arena comes to mind), notwithstanding that the proper thing to do is to rename the Inn in light of Prof. Blackwell's conviction, the University should wait until an appropriate and dignified replacement can be found and avoid names like "Fast Food Hall" and "The Discount Inn". Dignity is better than speed in this situation.

--------------------
Randall M. Walters
Jones Day
Columbus, OH

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Seglin,

I am an Emeritus Professor of Law at The Ohio State University. I do not
know Mr. Blackwell. Mr. Blackwell has appealed his conviction. Until he
has exhausted all of his legal remedies and his conviction has become
final, the university should not remove his name from the building. If his
conviction is ultimately upheld, keeping his name on the building would be
a public embarrassment and would teach students and others a lesson that is
better left untaught.

Sincerely,

Lawrence Herman
Professor of Law Emeritus
Moritz College of Law
The Ohio State University

Anonymous said...

We need to know if there was any agreement attached to the $7.0m pledge. If
there was a quid-pro-quo stating that in return for a donation of $7.0m or
more Blackwell's would go on the building, then the name should come down
regardless of his legal situation since only $1.4m was received. If there
was no agreement then it's up to the university officials' judgment, in
which case I also think the name should come down since Blackwell reneged on
his $7.0m pledge. The only way I can see the name staying is if there was
an agreement along the lines of "in return for a donation of at least
$1.0m...". In that case Blackwell held up his end and the university should
do likewise.

Alan Sechrest
Mission Viejo, CA

Anonymous said...

Mr Seglin,
In response to your question about the OSU Blackwell Center name on the building, I do have an opinion.

The overwhelming public agency(s) trend to name facilities for large donors is totally out of reason. Two parties are at fault: the donor who wants recognition (ego stroking) for his contribution, and the recipient who, with good reason, wants to acknowledge the contribution with the hope that it will generate more donations from others. Neither is a valid reason to name a permanent structure for the donor (remember the Enron stadium?) while still alive.

How many athletes get honored early in their career for good deeds and later wind up in legal difficulties. The same for businesses and the wealthy.

How much better to make donations for worthy causes without fanfare and recognition. In my own case I look for the situation such as helping a family to meet the expense of visiting their severely ill child in a hospital, or an Amish family caught in an accident that injured the children and was fatal to their horse.

I have been thru hard times and yet I am now blessed with some resources that allow me to be charitable where an unfortunate need can be helped. Big charities with high overhead and well paid executives do not meet my criteria and I am not interested in a tax write-off or recognition.

Several years ago I made a donation to a Political party. Within six months they had spent every cent of it on mailings to try for more contributions including prepaid Fed Ex envelopes. It has not stopped in the several years since.

Yes the Blackwell name should be removed from the Center and returned to a "no name" conference center and hotel operated by Ohio State University.

Respectfully,

Eric Tubbs
Columbus, Ohio
July 25, 2006 11:35 am EDT

Anonymous said...

Having had a class or two eons ago at OSU with Dr. Blackwell, he was great. Read the stuff below as I don’t want to repeat myself and waste your time.

To me, I do think he needs to cough up the rest of the dough though (I thought it was funny)!

Sincerely,

Clark Huskey

Columbus, OH

Anonymous said...

My name is Bill Kotys; I live in Columbus, OH and read the article in the Columbus Dispatch.

I believe that once his appeals to the higher courts are complete, the University should return his 1.4 million dollars and rename the Blackwell. Had the money that was pledged been given in full, then I believe the issue would be different. As with any monument, such as a gravestone, one does not change the name or enscription if after the person's death it is found that he was a felon. But Blackwell had not paid in full before this issue arose. The death of his reputation preceeds payment in full.

In this case he committed the crime while still a professor at the Ohio State University and in representing the university in a very bad light it only would serve as a negative reminder to everyone that it's "about the money" and not about integrity. It's not OK to create a monument with money that is mixed with fraud in any way.

Anonymous said...

I received a note from Gary Zeune regarding your question on removing Roger Blackwell’s name from a building. I am an OSU business school alumnus (1979) and have only met Roger in passing and certainly don’t know him personally. However, I do believe that his ego and greed have been building steadily over the years, to the point where they became his downfall.

So yes, I do believe that his name should be removed from the building. OSU was fully aware of his blind ambition and actually contributed to it. They should now have the guts to do the right thing. There is a lesson to be learned here and OSU is supposed to be an institution of higher learning.

Ken A. Dodson, CPA, PFS
Columbus, OH

Anonymous said...

With any commitment someone makes and doesn't fulfill the reasons must be fully interpreted!

With the knowledge I have so far, to leave the center with the Blackwell namesake would demonstrate to hordes of future students and citizens that OSU has a penchant to honor convicted criminals. In fairness however we should minimally wait for his appeal to be prosecuted. If acquittal carries the day and Roger Blackwell fulfills his financial pledge, then his name should stay, if he doesn't relegate his nameplate to the rubbish pile.

John Smallridge