Penn law school's renaming to "University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School" prompted swift backlash from students and alumni after the announcement on Friday.
More than 500 students and alumni have signed a petition demanding the school revert its short-form name from "Carey Law" back to "Penn Law," arguing that employers will not recognize the new name, and the prestige of the "Penn Law" name will help them with their careers.
While students said they understood the full name could not be changed back, they criticized the lack of transparency in the renaming process and the fact that the University agreed to name an academic institution after a corporation.
On Friday, Penn President Amy Gutmann and Board of Trustees Chair David Cohen sent a University-wide email announcing the name change after a $125 million donation from the W.P. Carey Foundation — the largest sum gifted to any law school.
The shortened form of the name is used on official University communications, signage, and documents, according to the law school style guide. The abbreviated form is also used on law school merchandise. Penn's law school, like the other schools at the University, has a style guide to regulate the branding of the school. The new short-form names include "Carey," "Carey Law," and "Carey Law School" — but "Penn Law" is no longer an acceptable abbreviation for the school.
“The undersigned would like to preserve the brand recognition, over century-long history, and clear association with the University of Pennsylvania that comes with the name Penn Law,” the petition reads. “This is in no way meant to belittle or disrespect the immensely generous gift by the Carey Foundation as we are extremely grateful for their support and look forward to the positive changes and improvements that come as a result.”
Third-year Carey Law student Kristen DeWilde, who was involved in the circulation of the letter, said she plans to send the petition to Carey Law Dean Ted Ruger and the Board of Trustees early this week.
Penn's law students and alumni argued that keeping the short form as "Carey Law" disassociates the law school from the University and from the prestige that comes with the Penn name.
“We live in capitalism and in capitalism, name recognition gets you a job,” said third-year Carey Law student BJ Courville, who signed the petition. “Name recognition gets you in the door. This is a law school. We need jobs. We signed up to be part of a network and the network is joined by the name.”
“Carey Law School sounds fairly generic and sounds like an unranked law school,” said 2018 Carey Law graduate Tom Mandracchia.
In a statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian, Carey Law spokesperson Steven Barnes wrote that the school understands the new name of "Carey Law" would take time to get used to.
“We appreciate and respect the many reactions people have shared, which reflect the range of viewpoints of our community, and often accompany a naming gift of this magnitude,” Barnes wrote. “While a name change for an institution people care deeply about may take some getting used to, this gift will do nothing less than enable us to make unprecedented investments in our institution and do more and better for our students, faculty, and alumni.”
Three minutes after students received the University-wide email announcing the name change on Friday, Ruger wrote in an email to law students that the donation and renaming of the school had proceeded confidentially for many months prior to the announcement.
Carey Law students received a third email about the renaming of Penn Law from Carey Law Dean of Students Felicia Lin 27 minutes after the University-wide email announcement. Lin wrote she will hold a lunch conversation on Monday in Fitts Auditorium for students who want to learn “what this means for [students].”
Courville and DeWilde said they felt the "Penn Law" name had been immediately taken away with little to no consideration of students, faculty, and alumni. Second-year Carey Law student Sanjay Jolly said students and alumni were left “completely in the dark.” He also said there was an absence of transparency about what the exact terms of the donation entail.
Students also criticized that the school carried the same name as a corporation, while other top law schools are not renamed.
“It’s reflective of the fact that uber-wealthy people can basically put their names on institutions for what is effectively small change [for the school],” said first-year Carey Law student Apratim Vidyarthi, who signed the petition.
“[Harvard Law, Cornell Law, and Columbia Law] would never ever sell their name off, so why are we selling our name off?” DeWilde said.