Think tank needs to rethink renaming Paepcke Auditorium
August 15, 2006
The Aspen Institute is a proud organization that has raised Aspen’s profile and brought many of the world’s greatest thinkers and decision-makers into our midst. But despite all its intellectual firepower, the Institute has committed a misstep in its plan to rename Paepcke Auditorium.Last week this newspaper reported that the institute planned to name the auditorium after Stewart and Lynda Resnick, since the Resnicks graciously agreed to donate $4 million to the auditorium’s restoration. The auditorium is roughly a half-century old, and we don’t doubt that it needs work.Institute officials said at the time that the auditorium has never been officially named, which we take to mean that the auditorium’s official name is therefore “available” to a donor.Unfortunately, institute officials are quite literally talking out of both sides of their mouths. Even as the top brass claim publicly that there is no official name for Paepcke Auditorium, their subordinates regularly send announcements and press releases for events occurring at the “Walter Paepcke Memorial Auditorium,” which sounds pretty official to us. In fact, both the institute and the White House in Washington, D.C., have announced that today’s conversation between Aspen Institute President Walter Isaacson and Lynne Cheney will take place at the Walter Paepcke Memorial Auditorium.As far as we can tell, the Institute uses the word “Paepcke” when it wants people to know where an event will be, but when it comes to recognizing a donor, the room is suddenly “not officially named.”So let’s tell it like it is: The institute is proposing to rename Paepcke Auditorium. And the hair-splitting about what’s been officially named and what hasn’t – the structure that houses the auditorium, they say, will remain the Paepcke Building – has only added to the feeling among many locals that a piece of the legacy honoring industrialist Walter Paepcke, who first conceived of Aspen as a utopian locale to nurture the mind, body and spirit, is being unceremoniously sold.No, this is not on a level with the 1998 demolition of the Paepcke home, but it is an echo.None of this is to criticize the Resnicks’ generous gift, or to take issue with any of the Institute’s good work. It is worth mentioning here that the Institute has made great strides in the last couple of years to open its doors to the public and strengthen its ties to this community.But much of that good will could be lost through this proposed move. Institute leaders can show their respect for the Paepcke legacy by allowing the name to remain on the auditorium, and finding another way to honor the Resnick donation.