Drexel University's plan to name its law school for plaintiff's lawyer Thomas R. Kline, for his pledge of $50 million in cash and real estate, is the second time that school has sold naming rights.
In 2008, Drexel said the law school would be named for 1959 grad Earle I. Mack, the real estate mogul who ran Mack-Cali Realty Corp., in exchange for Mack's pledge of a $15 million matching grant, once Drexel found a second $15 million.
The recession hammered charities and law school enrollments. Still, Mack went ahead and gave Drexel $4 million in 2010, according to his foundation's tax returns. Mack also made smaller gifts to Drexel totaling at least $180,000 in 2009-12.
But last December, Drexel and Mack agreed to take his name off the school. In a polite statement citing "the unprecedented economic pressures facing law schools today," they agreed "a change is warranted in order for Drexel University to attract other major benefactors to the Law School."
"Mr. Mack would like to say he greatly admires the job that President [John] Fry and the distinguished faculty have done for the law school," Marcia Horowitz, a representative of the foundation, told me earlier this year. Neither the foundation nor Drexel spokeswoman Niki Gianakaris would confirm how much Mack money ended up at the law school.
How often does this kind of thing happen in Philadelphia, whose biggest employers - colleges and hospitals - are more dependent on charity than in most big towns?
Hard to know: Though it's tough to say nothing when they're prying a guy's name off a building and a nest of websites, the same donors and grantees who gaily publicize million-dollar promises do try to zip up quiet when charitable marriages fail.
For example: In 2005, University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann announced that law school dean Michael A. Fitts would be honored by a $1 million gift to start the Nevels-Fitts Scholarship program, funded by James E. Nevels, a double-degree Penn grad who is chairman of Swarthmore Group, a stock-picking firm that counted Pennsylvania state and local government agencies as clients. Nevels also headed the state-controlled School Reform Commission, charged with turning around Philadelphia public schools.
"As the first person in my family to attend college, I feel I owe a great debt to Penn Law School, which paved the way for my subsequent success," Nevels said in a statement at the time. "The least I can do is help others gain the same advantage that a Penn education afforded me."
But by the time Fitts left Penn to run Tulane University in the spring, the Fitts-Nevels scholarships that were to be his legacy had yet to be set up. A longtime Penn official who asked not to be named told me Nevels had not made good on his pledge; neither Penn spokesman Ronald Ozio nor law school spokesman Steve Barnes would say what happened to the scholarships.
Nor would Nevels. "He does not discuss his philanthropic activities," Swarthmore marketing manager Erin Lockard told me. However, Nevels' initial pledge to fund the scholarships, and all of the nice things Penn officials said about him then, remains online at the Penn and Penn Law websites.
The lack of follow-through doesn't seem to have hurt Nevels professionally. While Swarthmore Group is smaller than it used to be, Nevels has gone on to chair the boards of two key Pennsylvania institutions: Hershey Co. and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.