Honor contributions of Goodenough with building on campus

Abhirupa Dasgupta

This past October, longtime professor John Goodenough was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his contributions to the development of the lithium-ion battery.  At 97 years old, Goodenough is the oldest Nobel laureate and only the fourth UT professor to be awarded this distinction in the University’s long history of academic excellence. 

“It’s an apex of a truly remarkable career you have had, especially for the last three decades at The University of Texas,” President Gregory Fenves said at a press conference following the announcement of the Nobel Prize recipients. 

To congratulate Goodenough on his research that allowed cell phones and other mobile devices to become so ubiquitous, Fenves gave him a Longhorn phone case. This gift inspired widespread ridicule on social media. I had to agree — how could the University honor a renowned faculty member for such a momentous achievement with such a diminutive token? Especially when not even a month later, this campus erupted in chaos to celebrate Jimmy Fallon? 

If it were up to me, I’d name a building after Goodenough. 

When walking around campus, I’m constantly confronted with buildings that display powerful names: Jester Center, Waggener Hall, Gregory Gym, among others. More than three-fourths of the named buildings on campus honor UT presidents, faculty members or regents. 

However, engineering buildings don’t follow the same trend. Most of those buildings, such as the chemical and petroleum engineering building  or the biomedical engineering building are unnamed. Two buildings — Cockrell Hall and the Gates Dell Complex — are named after donors, while only one building — the Larry R. Faulkner Nano Science and Technology Building — is named after a former UT president and professor. 

UT historian Jim Nicar said traditional practices of naming buildings after prominent University faculty have changed as state funding for public universities dwindles

“The situation has pushed University fundraising offices to become more creative with finding ways to thank and recognize generous donors, and that has led to naming buildings and other structures, or the college or school itself, for contributors,” Nicar said in an email. 

However, that may mean that the stories of important faculty members who have contributed to the University’s respected academic reputation have to take a back seat. While I can appreciate that the School of Engineering needs to encourage donations, I don’t see why they can’t spare one building to dedicate to a renowned faculty member like Goodenough.  

The UT System naming policy states “institutions must carefully consider … the overall benefit to the institution and whether displaying the name is and will continue to be a positive reflection on the institution.”  

Goodenough’s name will do just that. The naming policy does indicate that “honorific” naming can “occur only after the campus employment … has concluded,”  and Goodenough is still going strong. However, there’s nothing stopping UT from announcing plans to set this dedication in motion. 

“Having a member of the faculty win the Nobel Prize is certainly a big deal,” Nicar said. “Such awards affect the rankings and international reputations of universities and inspire public confidence in how well a university is pursuing its mission, especially in research.” 

However, Goodenough’s list of accomplishments goes far beyond this one honor. He is currently the Virginia H. Cockrell Centennial Chair in Engineering, and his work has garnered much praise both domestically and internationally. He has also donated his prize money from two major awards right back to the University,  making him both a celebrated faculty member and a generous donor. 

But most importantly, Goodenough’s research has touched every one of our lives and impacted the world in immeasurable ways. As a prominent research university, we’re lucky to have him because he is living proof that our campus fosters academic excellence. 

So one day, as I’m strolling down Speedway on my way to class, I hope to see the Goodenough Building — a permanent reminder that what starts here truly does change the world. 

Dasgupta is a neuroscience and biochemistry sophomore from Frisco, Texas.