The University of NSW academic board has overwhelmingly voted to endorse a decision to bestow the naming rights of a College of Fine Arts school to Dr Gene and Brian Sherman. But students are now calling for the Shermans to reject the university’s decision.

The fracas erupted after UNSW vice-chancellor Dr Fred Hilmer announced the Shermans — renowned philanthropists and arts patrons — had donated $2 million towards the redevelopment of the COFA Paddington campus. In return for the gift, it was revealed that a new gallery and the School of Art History and Art Education would be named after the Shermans.

The decision marks the first time a school at UNSW will be named after an individual benefactor, with the university’s naming rights policy failing to specify how it is to bestow naming rights on schools.

In a motion presented to yesterday’s meeting of the academic board, Professor Ian Howard, dean of COFA, moved that the academic board thank the UNSW Foundation for its fund-raising efforts, while noting that “philanthropy provides significant benefits in the provision of improved facilities and other resources and support, and does not entail any diminution of the governance, management or academic freedom of the University or any University entity”.

A spokesperson for UNSW told Crikey the motion was put to a vote and received “overwhelming support” from the academic board, as well as the backing of Hilmer. Furthermore, the vote followed a “useful discussion of principles” involved in the renaming of the school, which centred on concerns raised by the SRC and staff about process and consultation.

As Crikey reported last month the naming rights decision has caused consternation, with students and staff questioning whether the decision could impact on curriculum independence. At the time, Student Representative Council president Osman Faruqi said the decision would “undermine the integrity and quality of education at the UNSW”, while a rally was held on campus to protest the move.

A group of academic staff at UNSW put up a second motion at yesterday’s meeting requesting the board not support the name change or the future incorporation of private organisations into the naming of schools, but it failed to garner enough support to be put to a vote.

But Faruqi is continuing to speak out against the move. In a letter to the Shermans obtained by Crikey, Faruqi asks the pair to reject the university’s “regrettable” decision, which he says has arisen “as a result of a lack of consultation between parties involved”:

“We have a proposal for you. That you suggest to the University executive that you gladly accept the gallery in your name but will not accept the renaming of the school, as the Sherman School of Art History and Art Education, as it appears to be too contentious a matter at this stage, and would not be in your interest or the general interest at this point.

“It is our opinion that this action on your part might allow the university executive to bow out gracefully from one of the most contentious issues it has advanced in recent years, thus allowing students to pursue their studies without further change.”

faruqiletter

The Shermans operated a private gallery until 2008 before establishing the not-for-profit Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation. Gene Sherman could not be contacted before deadline.

Peter Fray

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