SOUTH ORANGE It used to be called the Brennan Recreation Center. These days, it’s more like the recreation center formerly known as Brennan.
Seventeen months after Robert Brennan was sent to a federal prison for bankruptcy-fraud and money-laundering convictions, the Seton Hall Board of Regents quietly removed his name this month from the building where university students have exercised since its dedication in 1987.
Seton Hall is not alone in the predicament of accepting a gift that wound up tainted by the benefactor’s misdeeds.
The University of Missouri-Columbia has a professorship named for Kenneth L. Lay, the disgraced former chairman and chief executive of bankrupt Enron Corp., and at the University of Michigan, the medical center and architecture college carry the name of graduate Alfred Taubman, the fallen former chairman of Sotheby’s auction house.
“It puts the institution in a very awkward position,” said William Hamm, president of the Foundation for Independent Higher Education, which links business leaders with private colleges and universities.
Unlike Seton Hall, however, colleges and universities more often opt to retain the donors’ names and their monetary gifts.
Such decisions can disturb fellow alumni. Michigan law school graduate David Boyle, for one, wishes that his alma mater remove the name of Taubman, who was convicted last year of violating antitrust laws.
“The university should feel obliged to hold as morally praiseworthy a public image as possible,” Mr. Boyle said. “If we keep the Taubman name, what’s next? A Michigan student union building courtesy of WorldCom?”
Michigan isn’t considering any removal, a university spokeswoman said.
Missouri has kept an endowed chair in international economics named for Mr. Lay, who donated $1.1 million in company stock to his alma mater in 1999. The school fortuitously cashed in its stock a year before Enron’s collapse, at $82 per share.
Most schools are blindsided when beneficence goes awry, but the University of North Dakota knew what it was getting into when it accepted $100 million from a former student hockey player, Mr. Hamm said.
The gift, from hotel and casino mogul Ralph Engelstad, requires the university to retain its nickname, the Fighting Sioux.
Thumbing his nose at American Indian organizations long opposed to the nickname, Mr. Engelstad had more than 4,000 reproductions of the mascot installed in the arena that opened last year bearing his name.
“At the very least, he had incredibly bad taste and remarkable insensitivity,” said Scott Lowe, a professor of philosophy and religion who has joined other protesters in boycotting arena events.
Mr. Engelstad died last month, but the Grand Forks school has no plans to remove his name or the mascot likenesses.
Seton Hall, on the other hand, may go further to distance itself from dicey donors. Regents for the Roman Catholic school in northern New Jersey have approved a policy reserving the right to erase other names from campus buildings, and they may be asked to do that.
The university also has structures named for Dennis Kozlowski and Frank Walsh Jr., both former executives of beleaguered Tyco, the multinational conglomerate under investigation for financial improprieties.
“The bottom line is that these aren’t frequent issues,” Mr. Hamm said. “Most donors are noble people. That’s why people become donors.”
When the benefactor who gave $500,000 to Augsburg College in 1987 turned out to be less than honorable, the Minneapolis school turned the tables on him.
Augsburg accepted Elroy Stock’s donation but declined to name a wing of a building for the alumnus after learning that he had written letters promoting racial purity to thousands of mixed-race couples.
Mr. Stock sued to get his money back, and the case dragged on for nearly a decade before a judge ruled that Augsburg could keep the donation. The school uses the money to fund scholarships for minority students.