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Just change the name and let the taxpayers get the credit

There was a time when public buildings at places like the University of Connecticut were named for people who had contributed something significant to the institution — and it didn’t have to be money. The campus is dotted with aging buildings named for professors, who are always described as beloved; college presidents Albert Jorgensen and Homer Babbidge, who were around long enough to be remembered; and even the occasional politician like Ray Baldwin, the governor when Connecticut State College became the university in 1939.And now we have Robert G. Burton, whose name graces the sumptuous Burton Family Football Complex and who wants the $3 million he donated for the building and other football related activities returned because he doesn’t like the new football coach.Should the University of Connecticut lose its reason and agree to give Burton his money back and take his name off the Burton Family Football Complex, it could always be renamed the Connecticut Family Football Complex because your family and mine, also known as the taxpayers, really paid for most of it. Former legislator Jonathan Pelto did the breakdown, finding that $31 million of the impressive $45.5 million spent on the project came from the taxpayer-funded UConn 2000, the huge infrastructure project that transformed UConn’s once seedy campus into what it is today. There wasn’t anything wrong with putting the latter-day Babbitt Burton’s name on the wall after he gave the biggest individual chunk of the $45.5 million and if it gave people the impression he paid for the whole thing, Burton probably didn’t mind. In fact, The New York Times contributed to that myth by reporting last month the complex “was financed by donations from Robert G. Burton.” Where he went wrong was in thinking his right to name the next football coach came with the deal. But if you have a big time football program, he’s the kind of guy you have to live with unless you don’t need the money. I should point out right here that it’s a really nice football complex. Your family and mine would be proud to have our names on it if Burton’s is removed.You can take an eye-opening tour of the complex by logging on to uconnhuskies.com/facilities/burton-family-complex. It’s worth the trip. You’ll find a building designed by an architectural firm that has created stadiums for 24 major league baseball and 30 National Football League teams, including the New York Mets’ new Citi Field. The tour takes you from a flashy, “display-filled foyer” to a state-of-the-art video department “to give players an extra edge in game preparedness.” There are comfortable study areas with a computer lab, group study rooms and offices for tutors, a locker room worthy of a top-of-the-line country club, a complete kitchen and dining room, major league training equipment and a student athletes’ lounge with leather furniture and some really fine billiard tables. All of this for 100 or so football players. Other students are not welcome. Back in the day when teams were headquartered in the old Field House, students were allowed to use exercise equipment, for one example, but no more, according to The Hartford Courant. The Burton Family Football Complex is just what the name indicates, for football players only.But now that the 100 football players have a home, the university hopes to use a new student recreation fee to build something for the rest of the students.Not that college students are in particular need of more recreation. At about the time the Burton flap erupted, a little noticed, but quite impressive study of students from 24 colleges and universities found they aren’t learning much. Half of the 2,300 students surveyed did not take a course requiring 20 pages of writing in an entire semester or even worse, a course that made them read all of 40 pages in a week. After two years, nearly half showed no gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing. What does that have to do with a state university that has transformed itself into a big time football and basketball power in recent years? You decide. Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. E-mail him at dahles@hotmail.com.

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