(Wavebreak Media LTD)

Widener University School of Law has asked a marketing and public relations firm to seek insight from students, faculty and staff about a potential name change in anticipation of the American Bar Association approving the proposed split of its Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington campuses.

Brian Communications, a Conshohocken, Pa., public relations agency, met with members of Widener’s Wilmington community earlier this week and similar sessions are scheduled for the law school’s Harrisburg campus, according to university spokesman Dan Hanson. The publicity firm was founded by Brian Tierney, Widener Law graduate and former publisher and owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.

An email sent out last week from Lou Anne Bulik, assistant vice president for university relations, described the meetings as “listening sessions” for members of the Wilmington community to “voice their thoughts concerning a future name and see if common threads concerning a new name seem to rise to the surface.”

“The consultants will not be giving a presentation or presenting data; they will be here to listen to your thoughts and suggestions concerning a potential future name for Widener University School of Law in Delaware,” Bulik wrote in the email sent to Delaware-based students, faculty and staff.

Widener has already held similar meetings with the Delaware community about how to position the school after the split and possibly redesigning its website. The new meetings will “not supplant or replace” the previous conversations, according to Bulik’s email.

Hanson said the goal of the meetings is to give all members of the law school’s community an opportunity to voice their opinions on a potential name change. The possible name change will only impact the law school’s two campuses and not the main university in Chester, Pa., according to Hanson.

“This is going to be a very open format,” he said. “We want to hear input from the faculty, students and staff.”

When asked if Widener could still retain its current name after the split, Hanson conceded that was a possibility.
”I’m sure there’s a chance that could happen,” he said. “This is a very open format and we have no predetermined notions going into these meetings.”

Hanson added the meetings will focus exclusively on the name change and Brian Communications will not discuss the possibility of a post-split rebranding of either campus.

“We want to listen to what the faculty, staff and students have to say about the possibility of a name change,” he said. “We really know the strengths of the two campuses right now and those two campuses are going to stand on that. Widener’s two campuses have developed their own personalities and strengths.”

Widener confirmed earlier this year that the law school was moving forward with its plan to split the campuses. The university submitted paperwork in May to the ABA and it expects a response by June 2015, Hanson confirmed to Delaware Law Weekly earlier this year.

Under the plan, the Harrisburg campus would operate as an independent law school within Widener University. Both campuses would have separate deans. The law schools would still operate under the main university’s board of trustees, if the planned split is approved. But it is not known if each campus will operate under a separate board of overseers.

The separation plan had sparked whispers among the Widener community that a name change would be the next logical step. However, former Widener Law Dean Linda L. Ammons said in a May interview with DLW she expected both campuses to retain the Widener name.

“Both campuses will be children of Widener University,” she said. “Just because I leave my sister or brother doesn’t make me not a family member anymore.”

Law school name changes are rare, but a few have occurred in recent years.

Phoenix School of Law, a private law school in downtown Phoenix, changed its name to Arizona Summit Law School in November 2013. In April 2008, the University of California, Berkeley, rebranded itself as Berkeley Law after operating as Boalt Hall School of Law since the early part of the last century.

Most recently, Drexel University renamed its law school the Thomas R. Kline School of Law after Philadelphia attorney Thomas R. Kline donated $50 million to the school. When asked if Widener was soliciting donors to make a large contribution to the law school in exchange for naming rights, Hanson declined to discuss specifics.

“We will include all of our constituencies in the conversations,” he said. “They may not be in this meeting, but we will include those constituencies in other ways.”

If Widener does opt to rename the law schools, it will not be the first time a name change has been affiliated with the university. Widener was founded as the Bullock School for Boys in 1821 and underwent multiple name changes until it began operating as the Pennsylvania Military College in 1892. The university adopted the Widener name in 1972.

Jeff Mordock can be contacted at 215-557-2485 or jmordock@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffMordockTLI.