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Students have mixed feelings on newly named Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs



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The School of Public and Environmental Affairs changed its name March 4. The school will be known as the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs in honor of O'Neill's career and his $30 million donation. Sarah Zygmuntowski Buy Photos

IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs changed its name to honor former secretary of the U.S. Treasury Paul H. O’Neill, an IU alumnus, after a $30 million gift to the school.

What was known to students as SPEA was officially renamed March 4. The Board of Trustees approved the change Dec. 7.

Students were notified of the change the day it was made. The decision has received mixed reactions from both students and faculty of the school.

Graduate student Erik Ehrman, who also studied in the school as an undergraduate, said he wished there would have been more communication from administration before the change was made.

“If we’re changing the name, there should have been more of a celebration,” he said.

Some students, such as graduate student Joseph Gearon, felt indifferent about the change. He has only been at IU for a few months, so he said he barely knew the school as SPEA anyway.

Senior Olivia Little, a law and public policy major, said she feels betrayed by the name change.

“It actively devalues the worth of my degree,” she said. “A name means something, and I think they gave us a bad name.”

Little said she is upset because the change was made without the input of any students. Several faculty members she said she has spoken with said they did not know about the change until it was already done.

Additionally, Little recalled O’Neill was previously the CEO of Alcoa, a mining corporation. An article from the Center for Public Integrity referred to Alcoa as a “super polluter."

Little said she finds it odd that O'Neill represents a school that prides itself on public and environmental affairs.

“It’s wild that we take pride in this man,” she said.

O’Neill, who received his master of public administration from IU in 1966, has donated money to the school before. He contributed $3 million to help build the school’s graduate center, which opened in 2017 and is also named after him.

“My hope is that the school remains a place of excellence where future leaders can combine passion with action and develop the confidence they need to engage with society's greatest challenges and opportunities,” O’Neill said in the press release announcing the change.

His most recent donation will be used to start the Center on Leadership in Public Service, as well as several other smaller projects and opportunities for student scholarships, said James Boyd, director of marketing and communications for the O’Neill school.

“Thirty million dollars is a lot and will go a long way,” Boyd said. “It signals a new direction for the school.”

Claire Dorner, a junior studying environmental management, said it felt like a slap in the face when she found out about the name change.

She is disappointed the name was changed after a large donation, she said.

“Does the name of our school just go to the higher bidder?” she said. “It just seems sketchy.”

Little thinks students should get a say when these name changes are being considered, she said, because they have the most at stake.

“At the end of the day, it’s our degrees being affected,” she said. “Students have power, and they underestimate how much power they have. As soon as students realize that, the administration will be in trouble.”

This is not the first time in recent years a building name at IU has caused mixed reactions. The Wildermuth Intramural Center was renamed last semester in light of its racist namesake. Similarly, students and faculty have also discussed renaming Jordan Hall, which is named after a former IU president who was a eugenicist.

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