School Gets New Name after Media Mogul Donates $4 Million

Some Officials, Philanthropy Experts Question Gift

Howard University's School of Comumications will be renamed the "Cathy Hughes School of Communications" after the media mogul donated $4 million through her foundation.  (Photo Source: Howard University)

Howard University’s School of Communications will be getting a new name on October 23 after a former faculty member and one of the most successful women in the media business.  Cathy Hughes, founder and chairperson of Radio One, Inc., will be honored in the new name of the School of Communications after a notable donation from the Catherine L. Hughes and Alfred C. Liggins III Foundation.

Alfred C. Liggins III, President and CEO of Radio One, Inc. recently donated $4 million to the School of Communications through the foundation to honor his mother Cathy Hughes.  The school will now be named “Cathy Hughes School of Communications.”

While many school officials, including President Wayne A.I. Frederick, voiced excitement abouotabout the donation, a philanthropy expert and others university officials familiar with the package said the university doesn’t appear to be getting proper value for the name change. 

Frederick, however, was upbeat about the gift.

“I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for the School of Communications,” said Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick.  “Having a significant donation of endowed funds that will contribute to academic activity and student and faculty participating in scholarly activity is a great thing.  The type of thing that we need to be doing.  Having Cathy Hughes, in particular, do it and be associated I think is also tremendous.”

A former Howard University faculty member, Hughes
built a radio and television conglomerate, Radio One
and TV One, after guiding the university's radio station
to unprecedented success.Photo: Radio Facts

Hughes is a former faculty member at Howard University.  She started as a lecturer and was then appointed to general sales manager of WHUR 96.3 FM, Howard’s operated and owned campus radio station.  In 1973, she was promoted to WHUR’s general manager where she increased the radio station’s annual revenues from $300,000 to more than $3.5 million and created the popular, urban music format the “Quiet Storm.”  Hughes departed WHUR in 1978 for WYCB Radio where she was the vice president and general manager of the station.

In 1979, Hughes got a bank lender to buy a small Washington, D.C. station called WOL that would later transform into Radio One in 1980.  She launched TV One in January 2004, which is a cable television channel that is targeted towards the African-American community.

Hughes has served as the chairperson of the board and secretary of Radio One since 1980 and was the chief executive officer of Radio One from 1980 to 1997.  Radio One currently is the largest Black-owned broadcasting company in the country.

Hughes was not available for comment on the donation.

School of Communications dean, Gracie Lawson-Borders, is excited to have the School of Communications named after someone who has so much success in the media industry and believes the announcement is great for the school, which has recently celebrated its forty-fifth anniversary.

“There are phenomenal things that she has done, and for her name to be associated with us that’s a very positive thing,” said Lawson-Borders.  “I think this is just part of the momentum we’re carrying on from the forty-fifth anniversary that we’re looking forward to the next 45 years, so we got a lot to do,” said Lawson-Borders.

The money will be used to assist the school in getting cutting-edge technology and equipment to support its academic programs.  However, it will not be used for getting a new building for the School of Communications.

“It wasn’t particularly targeted for [a new building],” said Lawson-Borders.  “It’s a part of all the other things we needed.  You know we need technology.  We need upgrades in equipment so that was a part of it.  But this is kind of that forward movement as we keep moving forward to reach out and grab alumni and others and say, ‘This is what we need to do to keep doing what the School of Communications has done a wonderful job in and doing.’”

The university has been down this road before when the late John H. Johnson donated $4 million to the School of Communications.  The school briefly named the building after Johnson, but after financial complications with the donation, the name was dropped.

While some other universities, such as Marquette University and Syracuse University, have forged naming rights agreements with donations of $2 million and $2.75 million.  Howard University’s naming rights agreement may seem a little low compared to universities, such as Fresno State University and University of Maryland, which had agreements for $40 million and $20 million respectively.

Dan Parks, managing editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, thinks that $4 million may be too low of an agreement based on anecdotal evidence and press releases he’s seen.

“We don’t have any comprehensive data on what buildings typically go for in terms of naming rights.  However, based on what I seen $4 million does not sound like a lot of money.  It’s more often in the tens of millions,” said Parks.  “It may be a pretty good deal for the donor.”

Some university officials said they thought the university did not receive fair compensation.

"I think it's a bad deal," said one who is familiar with the agreement, but requested anonymity.  "We're once again giving away naming rights for a fraction of what it should.  If you look at other naming opportunities in the academic and the biz world, $4 million would not get you a school naming rights, I think it's a really bad deal."

Another university official said the grant is reminiscent of the failed arrangement with the family of John H. Johnson, a black publishing titan who created EBONY and Jet magazines.  The official, who also requested anonymity, said the university only received of the fraction of the $4 million that the Johnson family had pledged to the university.

"From what we were told, the school just gets interest off the money every year," the official said.  "That's not enough to build a new building.  It's barely enough to pay for the new equipment in a department.  The university has been down this road before and even back then, it was not the best deal, but the powers that be thought it was.”

Under the previous arrangement, officials said, the school was renamed the John H. Johnson School of Communications and the logo for the school was changed to reflect the new name.

"Some people had business cards with the name and there was stationary, but the name on the building wasn't changed," the official said.

Despite concerns, President Frederick believes that the School of Communications will only continue to grow in the next five years, and Cathy Hughes’s donation will help the school to move forward.

“I see it growing in enrollment, number 1,” said President Frederick. “Number 2, I’d like to see the School of Communications taking a lead in producing content that as a university we put out, so whether that’s through any medium right now, I’d like to see more content coming out of the School of Communications.  In five years, I’d like to see the School of Communications in a new building as well and I do think that Cathy Hughes’ donation is going to help us in some way, shape, or form achieve all of those three things.”