Since hearing last spring that the Business School’s Paton Accounting Center might be demolished, William Paton, son of the building’s namesake, has done everything in his power to prevent the University from destroying the building that bears his father’s name.
Paton sent letters to University President Mary Sue Coleman as well as to members of the University Board of Regents and talked with Business School Dean Robert Dolan about his concern that his father’s long legacy as an esteemed accounting professor at the University was being ignored. He has even considered legal action against the regents, who he believes may have overstepped the bounds of the law when they decided to destroy the building and strip his father’s name from it.
But his efforts were to no avail.
On Friday, the regents approved plans for a $145 million renovation of the Business School campus, including the teardown of the Paton Accounting Center and two other buildings. The new buildings have not yet been named.
“I feel stymied in this thing,” he said when reached by phone yesterday at his Texas home. “I would block it if I could, but I guess I don’t have any clout.”
The building was built in 1976 and dedicated to Prof. William Paton on June 11 of the same year after a group of his former students made donations to construct the building in honor of him. The elder Paton, who died at the age of 101 in 1991, began teaching at the University in 1917 as a part-time instructor and retired with the title “professor emeritus of accounting and economics” in 1958.
The younger Paton, also a Business School alum, estimated that his father taught about 20,000 students at the University over the course of his career.
Unfortunately, he said, those students won’t be able to protest on his father’s behalf.
“They were very loyal to him, but most of them are looking at the other side of the grass by now,” he said.
The University’s decision may affect at least one future donor, the younger Paton said. A friend of his is now considering taking the University’s name out of his will as a result of the handling of the accounting center’s destruction.
Paton’s said his original letter of complaint to Coleman, sent in May, was left unanswered for four months before she sent him back a letter lauding his father. Paton described the letter as “rambling” and said it did not give him the answers he desired. He has since sent Coleman another letter but has not yet received a response.
Dolan, the dean of the Business School, acknowledged Paton’s unhappiness and said that the new building would include Paton’s father’s name on an interior section.
“If this building is going to be torn down, they ought to replace it not with some cubbyhole but with another structure,” said William Paton III, the grandson of the professor who the building was named after.
The professor’s son said he is confused as to why no one from the University informed him of the decision to continue using the name on an interior part of the building.
“No one has ever told me what the space would be like or what it would contain,” Paton said. “I’ve been kept in the dark about the whole situation.”
He said he is pleased with the decision to keep his father’s name on a part of the building, but unhappy that administrators did not simply leave the original building standing.
“It still seems like this is a perfectly good, serviceable building,” he said.
The Patons heard about the possibility that the building would be demolished secondhand from a cousin who lives in Ann Arbor.
“I always thought I would naturally be one of the first people they would tell about this sort of thing,” he said. “A few years ago, Dolan came in with the idea he was just going to take over the situation and do more or less what he wanted to without asking.”
Now Paton said he has nothing left to do.
“I suppose I could rush up there with a poster and threaten to shoot someone, but I won’t,” he said.
The youngest Paton is more optimistic about the chance of halting the demolition before spring. He spoke about “stirring a drumbeat” on campus protesting the demolition on campus and perhaps forming a coalition to stop it.
He said his grandfather was also instrumental in convincing the regents to build Davidson Hall 60 years ago. The hall will also be torn down during the renovation.
“They’re basically erasing the whole history of the man who built this school,” he said.
Davidson Hall was named for Detroit Pistons owner and University alum Bill Davidson. Dolan said he has talked to Davidson a number of times and that Davidson was not upset that his name would no longer be used on the building.
According to Dolan, Davidson felt the renovations were good for the school.
Davidson, who Forbes magazine named the 61st richest man in the country with a net worth of $3.5 billion, has donated about $60 million to the University.
In a 1998 issue of “Dividend,” a publication that covers the Business School, an article about Davidson’s generous contributions to the school quotes former interim University President B. Joseph White as saying of Davidson, “He never sought to have his name on this or any building. This is an honor we have thrust upon him because it is fitting and proper.”
Plans are in place to name a section of the school after Davidson, Dolan said, and administrators are working with him to decide where.
Davidson could not be reached for comment.