One year after the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School changed its name, students and alumni said they felt some lingering dissatisfaction, even though the debate was now in the rearview mirror.
In 2019, Penn Law was renamed following a $125 million donation from the W. P. Carey Foundation. After thousands signed a petition to halt the process, a question and answer session, and threats from alumni to halt donations, the law school reconsidered the title. Carey Law was dropped in favor of Penn Carey Law. At the same time, Penn Law remained the school’s official short form until fall 2022.
The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke with students and alumni to look back on the initial uproar – and to understand how their thinking on the name change has evolved since then. A request for comment was left with representatives for Penn Carey Law.
Some recent graduates said that renaming the school diluted the value of their degree in the eyes of employers.
“There was certainly a degree of prestige sensitivity,” 2021 Penn Carey Law graduate Sanjay Jolly said.
Jolly said there was also a “sense of brand confusion,” citing a concern that his law degree from Penn might be mistaken for one from the University of Maryland — also named Carey.
Beyond the marketing of the new name, there was a “lack of transparency around what exactly was in the agreement between the foundation and law school," Jolly said.
He cited another example of a law school renaming: George Mason University’s law school was renamed to Antonin Scalia Law School after a donation from the conservative Koch Foundation. In that case, it was later reported that the renaming committed the public institution to use the funds to “promote conservative principles of governance."
"They were adamant that there were no threats to academic freedom in the agreement, but were also adamant that we could not see the agreement,” which included a confidentiality clause, Jolly said.
Other alumni said that there was a lack of prior warning about the change, combined with what they described as an aggressive implementation of the renaming.
One recent alumna involved in circulating the petition opposing the name change spoke to the DP on the condition of anonymity, citing a fear of retaliation from her employer. She said she walked into the school lobby on a “random Friday” to find “cupcakes” and “a big banner put up that just said ‘Carey Law.'"
“There's this universal gut discomfort with when you take an institution that has been around for hundreds of years, and you just completely change its identity overnight,” the alumna said.
The name "Carey" itself felt insignificant to the alumna. W.P. Carey and Francis Carey, in honor of whom the gift was made, are both Penn alumni, although only the latter was affiliated with the law school.
For some alumni and many current students, the change was not nearly so offensive. None of the students and alumni interviewed said they had heard of the change affecting a graduate’s career prospects.
Vinila Varghese, president of Penn Carey Law's Council of Student Representatives, said that if current students disliked the renaming to “Carey,” it was mainly for “aesthetic” reasons.
“Everyone just wanted [clothing] to still say Penn Law because it looked better,” she said.
Other developments, like Penn’s ascent to fourth place in the U.S. News Best Law School rankings, and the strength of its merit and public-interest scholarships compared to some elite peers, have offset that frustration, according to Theodore Weng, a 2023 Wharton graduate and pre-law student.
Jolly told the DP that in meetings he had with administrators after the announcement, “funding for internships” and the “recruitment of students of color” came up as uses for the Carey Foundation’s donation.
All those who spoke with the DP agreed that it was time to move on. Jolly said he did not want to "overemphasize" the frustration as an "activist issue."
"We got mostly what we wanted, which was to still be able to say ‘we go to Penn,'" the alumna involved in the circulation of the petition said.
Although some alumni she had communicated with were pushing for a complete removal of “Carey” from the school’s name, and might still hold a grudge, they constituted the “extreme" side of the debate, in her words.
Still, all the students and alumni agreed that, at least for now, they still know the school as Penn Law.
“I do warn some current students that if they're going to interview at law firms with Penn alumni, that they should just say, Penn,” the alumna who circulated the petition said.
Correction: A previous version of this article erroneously wrote that the Class of 2022 was the final class to graduate with "University of Pennsylvania Law School" on their diplomas. In fact, the Class of 2021 had graduated with "University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School" on their diplomas. The DP regrets the error.