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Struggling Paul Smith's College Won't Change Name In Exchange For $20 Million

Paul Smith's College was offered $20 million to rename after a billionaire's wife, but a court barred it from completing the name change.

A small college in the Adirondacks has dropped its bid to rename the school after a Wall Street billionaire's wife in exchange for $20 million.

Officials at Paul Smith's College in New York said Thursday they would not appeal a decision made earlier this month by the state supreme court concerning the gift from former Citigroup CEO Sanford Weill and his wife, Joan.

Image: Joan Weill and Sanford Weill
Joan Weill and Sanford Weill, seen on Oct. 7, had offered $20 million in exchange for Paul Smith's College changing its name to Joan Weill-Paul Smith's College.Andrew Toth / Getty Images

Over the summer, the school's board of trustees voted to rename the school "Joan Weill-Paul Smith's College" in exchange for the $20 million donation from Weill. Furious alumni signed a petition and wrote letters to the local newspaper protesting the move, which Paul Smith's president Cathy Dove argued was critical to the struggling college's financial survival.

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"Can anybody tell me in recent times what educational institution has given into such bribery?" one letter to the Watertown Daily Times asked.

Because the school, which has about 1,000 students, is a non-profit, the name change had to be approved by the New York attorney general’s office. The case went to court after the office received a litany of complaints from alumni.

"There is little doubt the financial position of Paul Smith's, or any institution for that matter, would improve with the injection of $20 million of revenue," Franklin County state Supreme Court Judge John Ellis wrote in his Oct. 7 decision.

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But because the college was established by the will of J. Phelps Smith, who stipulated that it be "forever known as Paul Smith's College of Arts and Sciences" in honor of his father, the judge rejected the change. Paul Smith ran a hotel on the college property in the 19th century.

The school said Thursday it was ending the legal battle.

"Despite our continued confidence in the merits of that proposal, we believe that an appeal would ultimately be counterproductive for students, alumni, faculty and staff," E. Philip Saunders, chairman of the Paul Smith's College Board of Trustees, said in a statement.

Paul Smith's has received other offers of donations, the president said, including one from an anonymous family who will match donations up to $5 million.

"We are eternally grateful for the Weill's significant offer of support and interest in the college," Dove said. "Their generous offer made it clear how many people in our community are passionate about the college, and we believe that there's nothing more important now than strengthening those bonds of support."

The court decision means the college will not be able to accept the $20 million from the Weills, who own a home nearby.

"It is a shame that Mrs. Weill wouldn't give the money and let the college name the forestry school or the campus after her instead," Mark Schneider, an attorney for alumni, told NBC News. "Her legacy has been diminished instead of honored."

Dove said new donors are now coming forward.

"We have a lot of hard work to do, but I believe in our community and know that we're charting a strong future for Paul Smith's College," she said.