Plans to Rename the Whittemore School is an Outrage

By Dean Dexter and David L. Gosselin

By any measure of understanding, the pending decision by the University of New Hampshire Board of Trustees to erase the Whittemore name from its School of Business and  Economics, and replace it in honor of a contemporary, high achieving alumnus who recently made a large financial donation to the school, is a callous outrage. It is nothing less than a shallow, opportunistic disregard for the achievements of not only an extraordinary person, Laurence F. Whittemore, but of the efforts of a previous generation to honor one of its own.

While one can understand why the university trustees, the dean of the school, the governor, other state officials and probably everyone else in New Hampshire is maybe overwhelmed by the munificence of Peter T. Paul’s gift of $25 million to his alma mater, going so far as to rip the Whittemore name off the building and off the record books is not only an over-reaction, it is establishing a horrible precedent.

Successful people and families will likely think twice about making generous gifts to New Hampshire institutions if there is no guarantee their legacies will be appreciated and protected. City councils and selectmen nearly always resist renaming streets and parks named for early pioneers and families, for just such a reason. State and federal officials are most protective and careful when it comes to naming and renaming mountains. The reason for this scrutiny is to maintain a semblance of honor, respect for those who have gone before, and to recognize that often our own successes are due to what we are able to build on the foundations they laid.

The Whittemore School of Business and Economics is not a sports arena where naming rights should be auctioned off to the highest bidder. This is a prestigious academic institution with an international reputation. Could one ever envision such a low-rent spectacle at Dartmouth’s prestigious Tuck School or the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School? Most unlikely.

What should we expect, if and when an alumnus who strikes it rich in agribusiness decides to donate a fortune to the school for Applied Science? Will we see the Thompson name conveniently go away, and thus dishonor the gentleman, Benjamin Thompson, whose farm was bequeathed to establish the Durham campus in 1890?

A newspaper story in June states, “school was formally named after Laurence Whittemore, an industrialist who served as chairman of the board of trustees, in 1960.” The story carefully notes that the “naming was not in response to a donation,” but was given in honor of Whittemore, who stepped down as chairman that same year.

While Laurence Whittemore was a life-long Democrat, he served 16 years as a member of the UNH board of Trustees, appointed all the while by a succession of Republican governors. He was born on a farm in Pembroke. Throughout his life, he gave much to people of New Hampshire through acts of charity and contributions to the state’s economic growth. He was a self-taught historian, with deep knowledge of the industrial revolution and the role New England played in it. He served as president of the Boston Federal Reserve Bank, headed both the Boston and Maine Railroad, and the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, and was president and chairman of the board of the giant Brown Company, once the jewel of the north country lumber and paper manufacturing business, based in Berlin.  .

A University of New Hampshire press release of several years ago additionally says this about him:

“While he never formally attended college, Whittemore earned eight honorary degrees, including an honorary doctor of laws degree from UNH. In 1954 he received UNH's highest honor, the Pettee Medal, in recognition of his support to the university, including five years as president of the board of trustees. In the late 1950s, he received the first Academic Freedom Award of the national American Association of University Professors, for his defense of academic freedom at UNH. In 1961, a year after Whittemore's death, the trustees named the new business school in his honor.”

No, the naming of the business school at the University of New Hampshire in his honor was not because of any financial donation Laurence Whittemore might have made to the school, but because of something infinitely more important than that. It came about because of the time and personal effort he put into the University of New Hampshire over a long period of years. That, and because of the extraordinary and singular life he lived, which people of his day recognized and wanted to honor.

This was also not something Laurence Whittemore or his family sought. It would be a grave error to remove his name from the university’s business school. It is beneath such a fine institution, and discredits the university community and all the people of New Hampshire. There are other ways to appreciate the generosity of Peter Paul’s gift, without erasing the efforts others once made to honor the legacy of another great man.

David Gosselin is a Wolfeboro native who grew up in North Conway. He formerly served as Chairman of the N.H. Republican State Committee, and is also a former state representative.

Contact information: Email: gosselin2@mindspring.com

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Link: WMUR-TV, Channel 9 coverage

David L. Gosselin with friend, syndicated columnist Bob Novak, Bridges House, Concord, NH, April 2001


Posted September 7, 2008

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