Up at the Law School, in the recently constructed Wasserstein Hall, there’s a restroom with a curious moniker. A plaque outside the sleek facilities proclaims, to any and all, that they are in the presence of the “Falik Men’s Room.”
William A. Falik, a former lawyer and real estate developer who presently teaches law at UC Berkeley, has a history of renaming men’s restrooms. Nearly a decade ago, Falik made a donation to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and succeeded in renaming a restroom in its Roda Theater the “Falik Gentlemen’s Lounge.”
It’s important to note that other names were considered, including the “Gentlemen’s Falik Lounge,” and the “Gentle Falik Lounge,” though propriety eventually disqualified these two contenders.
“We wanted to support the Berkeley Rep.,” Falik explains the initial donation, “and I thought it was somewhat humorous, to use the name Falik in association with a gentlemen’s lounge.”
Falik has been aware of the uniqueness of his name for a long time. “Growing up with this last name, you could take a lot of grief,” he explains. “I just turned it around, to being something, to me, that was humorous. That’s how I dealt with it.”
In this spirit, Falik, who graduated from HLS in 1971, sat down to lunch a few years ago with then-Dean of Harvard Law School Elena Kagan. “She was doing what deans do, that is, raising money for the Law School,” Falik says.
Falik’s father had recently turned 100, and Falik was looking to commemorate the event. “I was very interested in the public interest fellowship program that [Kagan] was championing, and I just said, ‘What if I were to give a hundred thousand dollars to the Law School?’”
Kagan explained that a donation of that size would merit some form of naming rights, perhaps a classroom. “I said, ‘Elena, I really don’t have much interest in classrooms. Believe it or not, I’d love to name a restroom in the new Wasserstein Hall,’ and she looked at me and just started laughing. She thought that was great.”
Like the “Falik Gentlemen’s Lounge” before it, the “Falik Men’s Room” ran into a few stumbling blocks. Initially, it, too, was meant to bear the name “Falik Gentlemen’s Lounge.” “But when that name was sort of bandied about at the higher circles of the Law School,” Falik explains, “they said it sounded as if it could be an association with a brothel.”
Falik’s more modest acts of naming contrast, of course, with the recent high-profile renaming of both the School of Public Health and Faculty of Arts and Sciences deanship.
When asked about these recent events and the current intensity of the capital campaign, Falik pleads ambivalence: “I can understand the tension around this.”
“On the one hand,” he cedes, “it seems a little over the top to me.” He goes on to grant, however, that the money is likely doing good. “Institutions like the School for Public Health are enormously important to the welfare of society, and someone giving that amount of money could be of great benefit.”
Falik’s family has long been involved in philanthropic activities, serving on several philanthropic boards, though he admits they rarely seek naming rights. “Often there are no naming rights associated with our contributions, which is fine with me, in our support of institutions and nonprofits,” he says.
Falik has shown impressive restraint in not plastering his name on things every time an opportunity comes his way. As a real estate developer, he had countless opportunities to name roads in communities he had built. “But what are you going to do when you tell your friends, ‘I’ll meet you at the corner of Falik Road and Blank Avenue’? It just doesn’t happen.”
Falik waits for the perfect moment, for the discrete opportunity. “I have always thought that by sticking with men’s rooms, I’m keeping a humorous profile, because basically there is a certain irony to it, as opposed to naming a hospital, or something like that.”
Before ending our conversation, I ask Falik to imagine for a moment that he can bestow his name on any structure or institution in existence. What would it be? He suggests, perhaps, an obelisk, before recanting: “I’m not interested in naming buildings. I’m stuck on men’s rooms. If there’s an opportunity for a men’s room, that’s where I am.”