Did you graduate from Penn Law? Better buy your sweatshirt and other swag soon.
The University of Pennsylvania law school’s name has changed to Carey Law, after a $125 million donation that included the naming rights to one of America’s oldest law colleges.
Grads, faculty, and students are alternately happy or furious that the naming rights belong to the W.P. Carey family’s foundation.
“We’ve received alum responses who are outraged about the change. They feel a strong attachment to the brand, as I do,” said Michael Frieda, a third-year student at the law school. “We’re just asking to maintain the Penn Law branding.”
In the cutthroat world of America’s law schools, an Ivy League name can translate into big bucks in the hiring world, Penn Law grads argue.
According to an online petition against the name change, signed by CEOs and partners from top Philly law firms, not all Penn Law alums are thrilled either. As of Wednesday, 2,200 alums and current students had signed the petition, which asks that the name Penn Law remain the shorthand way to refer to the school.
M. Kelly Tillery was one of the first to sign. The 1979 graduate of Penn Law is now a partner at Pepper Hamilton in Center City.
“It’s an awesome, generous donation. But Yale or Harvard would never do this,” Tillery said in an interview.
With the Carey money, Penn’s law school has become the highest-ranking law school in America to be renamed for a donor. The law school is currently No. 7 in the U.S. New & World Report rankings. The other school in the top rankings to bear a donor’s name is Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, after the Pritzker family gave $100 million in 2015.
“We should be moving away from Northwestern and more toward Harvard and Yale,” Tillery added.
The W.P. Carey Foundation has already inscribed its name on several higher-education institutions, including the law school at the University of Maryland’s Francis King Carey School of Law, the business school at Arizona State’s W.P. Carey School of Business, and the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School in Baltimore.
Faculty responses to the backlash? Many declined to comment, as did the law school’s dean, Theodore Ruger.
“Conversations ongoing about short form names,” said Polk Wagner, a professor at the law school. “I agree the rollout has been poorly handled and has raised legitimate concerns about transparency.”
Other faculty took to social media.
“I do think ‘Penn’ should be in the short name, but mostly because there is another Carey School of Law very close by. It’s not fair to them [or the market] to have confusion," wrote law professor Dave Hoffman on Twitter. “Look, $125M is a lot of money. But I am sure there are many out there who think that you don’t sell an old, rich, law school’s name for ‘that little.’ ”
Hoffman also defended the name in many tweets, saying: “Having a buffer is a big win for Penn’s stability. This sum will give future administrators room to maneuver. and benefit the students and faculty accordingly. We just got an enormous sum of money to hire new faculty, significantly reduce tuition, and build out our engagement with the broader world. Let’s do those things.”
Philadelphia philanthropist Raymond G. Perelman and his wife, Ruth, in 2011 donated $225 million to Penn, the largest single gift in the university’s history and one of the largest-ever gifts to a medical school in the United States. The donation created a permanent endowment for the school, which was renamed the Perelman School of Medicine.
“It’s a slap in the face to all the alumni who have spent tireless decades contributing to the reputation of Penn Law," said Amanda Parsels, a 2007 graduate now working as a government attorney.
"A lawyer’s reputation is her most important asset, and the current administration has sold Penn Law’s to the highest bidder, a real estate investor. Penn Law is one of the oldest and most respected law schools in the country. It is heartbreaking to see my proud institution cheapened to the level of a sports stadium. I didn’t graduate from ‘Carey Law,’ and I now feel I have no alma mater,” said Parsels, now living in New York City.
Officials acknowledge that communication around the name change was poor, in particular how the $125 million would be spent, according to a transcript of a Nov. 11 meeting with students.
Students hoped it might go toward a tuition freeze at Penn Law. Currently, one year of law school costs roughly $65,800 — not including the cost of living, which is estimated at $25,000 a year — for a total of about $90,000 a year, or $270,000 for a law degree.
“Tuition has gone up 4.5% a year since I’ve been here,” said Frieda, the third-year student.
The $125 million breaks down to about $1,500 a day over the past 229 years, estimated Tillery, the Pepper Hamilton partner. “If I donate $10,000, will they call it Tillery Law School for a week?”
For those still calling for Penn Law’s vintage brand, there’s a Penn Law merchandise site run by current students including Amanda Jonas Lorentson. The Penn Law Store has a Facebook site at: https://www.facebook.com/PennLawSchoolStore/.
“All the proceeds go toward supporting law students at Penn who work in public interest jobs during the summer,” she said. On Monday alone, the store took in $10,000 worth of orders for vintage Penn Law merch, more than they sell in a typical month.
Although she’s pleased the $125 million will include a 60% increase in financial aid, she asked: “What else are they doing with the money?”
Her belief: “By changing the name of our school to Carey Law, they are making it that much harder for us to apply to jobs, to get noticed by prospective employers, and to actually receive interviews for clerkships and other career opportunities.”
Professor Wagner believes time may heal all wounds.