Colleges are struggling with the aftermath of disgraced alumni
By Debra Erdley
Published: Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Carnegie Mellon University officials who run a fellowship endowed in the name of a graduate and former trustee fell silent when he was arrested last week in connection with a half-billion-dollar money laundering scheme for a Mexican drug cartel.
A biography of Marco Antonio Delgado disappeared from CMU's website shortly after his arrest in a case that could involve $600 million of dirty money. But “The Marco Delgado Fellowship for the Advancement of Hispanics in Public Policy and Management” remains, for now.
A university spokesman did not respond to questions about whether the fellowship, which started with $250,000 each from Delgado and CMU, would be renamed, and demurred when asked about the charges.
“We simply have no knowledge about this matter,” said CMU spokesman Ken Walters.
Delgado, 46, of El Paso is the latest in a line of distinguished alumni, donors and staffers across the country who have fallen from grace, leaving colleges and universities with the awkward dilemma of what do with buildings, centers, named chairs and portraits that honor them.
Duke University faced a similar decision with a portrait of Richard Nixon that hung in its law school for many years before he was compelled to resign from the White House in 1974. The election-year Watergate burglary and cover-up forced him from the presidency.
Shortly after he resigned, the portrait disappeared. Officials at the Durham, N.C., school declined to speculate on its location over the years.
But law school spokeswoman Melinda Vaughn said the school placed the portrait of Nixon, a 1937 Duke law school graduate, in the international alcove of the law school library after a 2008 renovation project.
“It's a beautiful portrait,” Vaughn said. “It's probably true for many large education institutions that you have alumni who made choices you wish they wouldn't have.”
Officials at the University of Missouri and, closer to home, at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington County, can empathize. Both schools dealt with sticky situations when life went awry for wealthy alumni.
Published reports document intense discussions at Missouri after former Enron President Kenneth Lay, who endowed a chair in the university's economics department in 1999, was indicted and convicted in the Enron scandal. Lay's name, however, remains on the chair he endowed.
Washington & Jefferson announced plans to name the school's technology center in honor of alumnus Alberto Vilar, an investment adviser, after Vilar pledged $15 million for the project in 1999. But Washington & Jefferson had to scale back plans when Vilar reneged on his pledge and later faced securities fraud charges.
School spokesman Robert Reid said the school omitted Vilar's name from the building, which is known simply as the Technology Center.
Officials at Waynesburg University in Greene County did not return calls about the school's H. William DeWeese Center. The center, dedicated on the third floor of the university library in 2007, honors a former Waynesburg trustee and one-time speaker of the state House who is serving a 30- to 60-month prison sentence. He was convicted in February of diverting public resources to his political campaigns.
Dick Jones of Dick Jones Communications, a State College public relations firm that specializes in higher education, said universities have few givens in handling such issues.
Jones cited Penn State's actions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal last fall. The school removed hall of fame football coach Joe Paterno's statue from Beaver Stadium in the dark of night but kept the late coach's name on the library he endowed.
And while Penn State removed former Vice President Gary Schultz's name from a university child care center's sign when authorities charged him with covering up Sandusky's crimes, university trustees relented last summer and agreed to table a motion to formally rename the center pending Schultz's trial next year.
Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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