Texas Southern University has stripped Tavis Smiley’s name from its communications building following a spat with the famous broadcaster over $2 million in donations to the Houston-based historically Black campus.
The TSU governing board contends that Smiley, a former news commentator with Black Entertainment Television and host of a PBS radio show, promised in 2004 to donate $1 million and to raise another $1 million for the university. In response, TSU created the Tavis Smiley School of Communication, officials say.
But Smiley came up short – way short – they say, noting that he has made only one donation (for $50,000) in 2005 and raised $250,000 from three corporate donors.
Smiley, however, says he had every intention of fulfilling his pledge. “Any institution that turns away a $1 million gift in this economy, I think ought to have good reason for doing that,” he told The Houston Chronicle. He said that the board’s decision “doesn’t feel good.”
According to the Chronicle, Smiley also said former university President Priscilla Slade offered to name the school for him before he pledged any money.
“I even made a joke, how much is this decision going to cost me?” Smiley told the newspaper. “She said, ‘This decision has already been made.'”
Not so, says TSU President John Rudley, who arrived on the campus in early 2008 to replace the embattled Slade. He said that he negotiated with Smiley for more than a year before the decision was made to strip his name.
“Because you did not fulfill your original commitment to our partnership, TSU plans to treat the partnership as being at an end,” Rudley wrote in a letter dated Sept. 28. “TSU will therefore remove your name from the School of Communication and the KTSU Radio facility to allow us to provide other major donors with the naming opportunity.”
Retorted Smiley in an email to Rudley: “I understand your letter to say that you don't want that gift. I ... will continue with my benevolence where it's appreciated.”