Defender News Service
A long-simmering disagreement between broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Texas Southern University has ended after the university’s governing board agreed to strip Smiley’s name from its communication school.
In 2004, Smiley promised to donate $1 million and to raise another $1 million for TSU. The school later created the Tavis Smiley School of Communication in his honor. In return, Smiley made one $50,000 donation in mid-2005 and raised $250,000 from three corporate donors. Although he had yet to make good on the promise for the rest of the money, he said he still intended to fulfill his personal $1 million pledge.
“Any institution that turns away a $1 million gift in this economy, I think ought to have good reason for doing that,” he said in a telephone interview.
He also said former university President Priscilla Slade offered to name the school for him before he pledged any money.
“I even made a joke, how much is this decision going to cost me?” he said. “She said, ‘This decision has already been made.’”
“It doesn’t feel good,” he said of the board’s decision. “My intentions were to help the students.”
TSU President John Rudley informed Smiley the deal was off.
“Because you did not fulfill your original commitment to our partnership, TSU plans to treat the partnership as being at an end,” Rudley wrote in a letter dated Sept. 28. “TSU will therefore remove your name from the School of Communication and the KTSU Radio facility to allow us to provide other major donors with the naming opportunity.”
Smiley promptly responded in an e-mail to Rudley. “I understand your letter to say that you don’t want that gift,” he wrote. “I … will continue with my benevolence where it’s appreciated.”
Smiley is best-known for his work on radio and with the Black Entertainment Television. He has a PBS program, which airs at 12:30 a.m. five nights a week on KUHF, channel 8. The flap prompted TSU’s regents to adopt a policy last spring spelling out under what circumstances it will consider naming a university building, college, endowed professorship or other program.
Under TSU’s new policy, anyone interested in naming consideration for a college has to donate $10 million, with half in hand before the name change takes effect. Naming consideration for a department or school within a college would require a $2 million donation.
“Most universities have a naming policy just so you don’t have this kind of misunderstanding,” Rudley said.
He also said he doesn’t believe the naming of the school wasn’t tied to any promised donation.
“My experience with universities is, you don’t name something for someone without getting money,” he said.
Smiley said he stopped the payments out of concern about mismanagement under Slade. She was accused of using school money for personal expenses and fired in mid-2006. She eventually was sentenced to 10 years probation after a grand jury indicted her.
Last summer, Smiley informed TSU he was changing the terms of the agreement. His business manager, Kenneth Goldman, wrote that Smiley wanted to pay $50,000 by the end of 2009 and $100,000 a year for the next nine years. He no longer would try to raise money from outside donors.
TSU’s well-publicized problems made it impossible to raise money from corporate donors, Smiley said. “And obviously, not unlike most Americans, my personal income has been impacted by this recession.”
Still, he said, he intended to honor his commitment, even if it would take a decade to do so. Now, he said he will donate that money elsewhere.
Defender News Service