It’s an odd compulsion to want to put your name on something that isn’t yours.
I graduated from Penn Law in May. Since then I’ve lived in Iowa City, Iowa, where I get my hair cut at Friday’s Barber Shop. I love that place. I love talking to Mr. Friday about football and the weather, and he cuts a damn good head of hair. Because I love it, if he needed help and I had the means, I like to think I’d give him a hand. But if that situation arose, it would never occur to me to ask him to rename the place “Hopkins’ Barber Shop.” Because if he did that, it wouldn’t be Friday’s Barber Shop anymore.
You may have heard that Penn’s law school just changed its name to “The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.” The new name was adopted following a $125 million contribution from the W.P. Carey Foundation. Students who met with the Penn Law administration to discuss the change reported that Carey’s donation was conditioned on the school changing its branding.
If this were the extent of the change I’d gripe briefly and then move on, because nobody cares very much about an institution’s full formal name. Few would bat an eye at “Reid Hopkins presents: Friday’s Barber Shop” written on some letterhead so long as the sign stayed the same and everyone could keep calling the place by the name it’s always had.
But the school, through a rapid and thorough rebranding effort, has told us that this is not that sort of name change. We’re “Carey Law” now, and “Penn Law” is no more. We’re Carey Law despite the fact that the name’s been taken by the law school at the University of Maryland, and we’re Carey Law even though we can safely assume that no one without the last name Carey prefers the change.
Naming things for wealthy donors, of course, is nothing new for Penn Law. We’ve got Golkin Hall (named for Perry Golkin, who made his money in private equity), the Haaga Lounge (Paul Haaga, former chairman of the financial services company Capital Group), and the Levy Conference Center (Paul Levy of — yup, private equity).
I could go on. Questions can and should be asked about whether giving money to an Ivy League law school should count as charitable giving in the first place.
Nonetheless, in an admittedly selfish way, I’m grateful to Penn Law’s donors. The school wouldn’t be what it is without them, and, as a recipient of the Levy Scholarship, I likely wouldn’t have spent three years in Philadelphia without them either.
This is different. It’s different than naming a building or a room because my fellow alumni and I did not attend a building or a room. An institution is more than its fixtures.
And this is different, even, than if I were to try to rename a barbershop in hypothetical crisis, because Penn Law did not need $125 million. No one will tell you that it did. This money is a luxury.
I don’t fault the school for wanting that luxury, and I understand human nature. I might change my name for $125 million, too.
That’s why most of my ire is reserved for the Carey Foundation for conditioning its beneficence on this change in the first place. The foundation is named for William P. Carey, a 1953 Wharton graduate, now deceased, who made his money in real estate finance. It’s chaired by William P. Carey II, who just received his MBA from Wharton in May.
If the materials circulated by the school are any indication, the only Carey to attend Penn Law was Francis J. Carey, a Navy veteran who led a distinguished career in both finance and law before passing away in 2014. I bet he loved Penn Law. I’ve seen no evidence that his family members ever did, or do now.
Do not get me wrong: Their money will help, just as both parties tend to benefit from any transaction. But I’m not going to thank them. It would be odd indeed if Mr. Friday ever thanked me for trying to pass off his legacy as my own.