College renames itself after banking billionaire's wife gave $20 million

sandford and joan weill
Joan Weill, right, donated $20 million to a college in upstate New York to rename it Joan Weill-Paul Smith's College.

The Weill family name brands quite a few buildings, and a college in upstate New York is in line to join the list.

But a lot of people associated with the small rural college are not happy about it.

Joan Weill, the wife of Citigroup (C) creator Sandy Weill, is giving $20 million to Paul Smith's College. In exchange, the school wants to be renamed Joan Weill-Paul Smith's College.

The school's board of trustees said in a letter that it welcomes the change in light of "two decades of volunteer leadership and unprecedented financial support from philanthropists Joan and Sanford Weill." In a statement, the school's president said the Weill family's latest donation will "provide a stabilizing financial foundation for the college."

But when the school was founded in 1937, it was with created with money and land left to it by Phelps Smith with the requirement that it forever be named after his father Paul Smith. So the school needs a court's approval to change the name.

The school has about 1,000 undergraduates and is the only four-year college in the Adirondacks. It is best known for its offerings in forestry, hospitality and environmental sciences.

About 3,300 people including current students, faculty and alumni have signed an online petition asking that the name not be changed. The petition says the name change represents "the brutal mutilation of the institution we know and love."

"It is not because we disrespect the generosity of Joan Weill," said the petition. "In fact we embrace it. It's so flattering that an outsider, someone with a comparatively small connection to our tight knit community would take such an interest in our tiny sanctuary."

State court Judge John Ellis held a hearing on the matter Tuesday but did not rule.

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The school's motion argues that the "forever" requirement "nearly fatally impedes" the college's ability to seek the large donations it needs. It said the school "must now adapt in order to remain a viable institution of higher education in the future."

The college said the Weills have already donated $10 million and helped raise $30 million from other donors over the past 20 years. Joan Weill has also served on its board of trustees for 19 years, and the school's library is already named for her. Weill, however, is an alumna of Brooklyn College.

The list of Weill-named institutions is a long one. In 1998, the family donated $350 million to Cornell, and part of it went to establishing the Weill Cornell Medical College.

The Weill name is also on a recital hall at Carnegie Hall, a public policy building at the University of Michigan, a music center at Sonoma State University and the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation's building in New York City.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy estimates that the family has given a total of $433 million to charity since 2006.

The family's foundation controlled nearly $74 million as of 2013, according to tax filings from the organization, and Forbes estimates the family's net worth is more than $1 billion.

Sandy and Joan Weill also signed Warren Buffett and Bill Gate's Giving Pledge -- a commitment to by billionaires to give away the majority of their wealth to charity -- which now has more than 570 signors.

In a letter on the pledge's website, the Weill's said they plan to give away all but a "small percentage allocated to our children and grandchildren." They added that education is their philanthropic focus.

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