In case you haven’t heard, starting July 1, the emblematic Patriot Center on our Fairfax Campus will be known as EagleBank Arena at George Mason University. The new name is part of a 10-year agreement with EagleBank, the largest community bank in the National Capital Region. The alliance will provide millions of dollars for facility upgrades, scholarships and athletic program support in addition to internships and mentorship programs.
Since we made the announcement earlier this week, I have heard from many members of the community who are as enthusiastic as I am about the partnership. I also have heard from others who either have mixed feelings or outright disapprove of the new name.
Let me explain why I am thrilled about the partnership and the name.
First of all, the partnership benefits our students. The scholarships add resources to our financial aid pool. The internships offer opportunities for students interested in careers in banking. And the investments in athletics and facilities allow us to strengthen our programs and our external projection without increasing the financial burden on our students.
Second, the name sends an important message: We are not alone in our commitment to providing access to a high-quality education. Leading organizations in our community are investing in us because they value what we do. And we have built George Mason University into a brand that others are eager to associate themselves with.
The relationship with EagleBank did not happen by accident. It is the result of an intentional effort on our part to establish partnerships with organizations and individuals who share our values and are willing to make investments that help us advance our mission. It is not the first building that we name to honor a person or a partner and we will do what we can to make sure it is not the last. Some observers might call that selling out. I call it buying in – investing in the idea of inclusive excellence that we are increasingly known for around the country and around the world.
During the 30-year existence of the Patriot Center, state funding for George Mason University has dropped to 28 percent from 67 percent of our operating budget. Who bears the cost of that shift? Students and families. A recent study of university budgets estimated that almost 80 percent of the tuition increases in public research universities like ours were directly caused by declining state appropriations. Despite the rising costs, Mason manages to deliver best-in-class value to our students, who show one of the highest student loan repayment rates in the nation. Our ability to provide best-in-class return on investment to our students will to a great extent depend on our success in finding more private partners like EagleBank that are willing to invest in what we do.
I dream of the day when the names on every building on our campuses will tell a powerful story of the many individuals and organizations that helped build this university into what it is today. Many of our buildings already do.
I love to work in Merten Hall, have lunch in the Johnson Center, hold meetings in Hazel Hall or Robinson Hall, attend a concert at the Hylton Center, watch students dance in the deLaski Building and walk visitors through our labs in the Nguyen Building. I can’t wait to watch my first basketball game at EagleBank Arena, and I am counting the days until I can share the big news of a new name on a brand new academic building (stay tuned!).
I am deeply grateful to each one of these people for what they have done for Mason, and I use every opportunity I can to share with visitors the stories behind each of these names.
These names don’t threaten our traditions. They enhance them.
We don’t need a building named Mason Hall to remind us of George Mason, a University Hall to remind us that we are a university, or an Exploratory Hall, a Research Hall and an Innovation Hall to remind us that we are innovative, do research and engage in scientific exploration. We don’t need a Patriot Center to remind us that we are the Mason Patriots either.
EagleBank Arena will be the home of the Mason Patriots. The Arena will continue to be a bustling swirl of Green and Gold on game nights and at university events, and Doc Nix and the Green Machine will continue to rock the house. Graduation caps will still take flight there every year. Our students, faculty, staff, alumni and the greater community will still have a wonderful time attending events of all kinds at the 10,000-seat venue.
What’s in a building name? A visible sign of the many individuals who helped support this great university of ours — and an invitation to others to do the same.