A court ruled a college couldn't rename itself after a billionaire, so it lost a $20 million donation

Philanthropy is often viewed as an act of the compassionate, free of self-interested demands.

That is, of course, a sanguine view of a “philanthrocapitalism” industry that has a been criticised for giving the wealthy too much influence over higher education.

And that’s likely how college philanthropy naysayers will interpret the news that billionaires Sanford and Joan Weill agreed to gift Paul Smith’s College $US20 million, only to rescind the offer upon learning the college couldn’t be renamed after them, according to The New York Times.

The tiny liberal arts college located in upstate New York was set to receive the generous gift that would nearly double its endowment — $US27 million in 2013 — and rename the college Joan Weill-Paul Smith’s College.

The college’s board of trustees had signed off on the decision as well.

“Our Board of Trustees thinks it only fitting that the names of the two most important families in the history of the college — the Smiths and the Weills — should be forever linked to the school and the region they love,” they wrote in a statement.

But a court ruled the school was unable to change the name, citing the will of founder Phelps Smith, which said the school must forever be named for his father, Paul Smith.

The school said it would appeal the decision, and would let the Weills decide whether they wanted to offer the gift unconditionally. They decided not to give the gift.

The trend of offering enormous gifts to colleges in return for having buildings renamed after the donor has been prevalent this past year.

In May, billionaire private-equity chief Steve Schwarzman donated $US150 million to Yale University to build a new campus center, which was then renamed the “Schwarzman Center.”

And in June, Wall Street billionaire John Paulson donated $US400 million to Harvard University. That donation earned him building naming rights with the eponymous John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Malcom Gladwell unleashed a series of tweets attacking Paulson and suggesting the money could have been better spent.

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