Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Ex-Donald Bren School of Law

The U.C. Irvine School of Law recently announced that it will not carry the name, "Bren," contrary to an earlier agreement honoring a $20 million gift by philanthropist Donald Bren, chairman of the Irvine Company. Why the change of plans? According to an Irvine Company spokesman, "part of the reason to drop the name was to avoid confusion with other schools that are named after Bren on the campus of UC Irvine" (emphasis added). That careful phrasing suggests other, unnamed, reasons also played a role in the name change.

It certainly seems as if Bren now means to distance himself from the fledgling law school. Note that his website's description of Bren's philanthropy makes no mention of his $20 million gift to U.C. Irvine School of Law. The omission appears deliberate, moreover, given that the gift would rank among the most generous he has made. Even more tellingly, reference to the Internet Archives shows that the same webpage formerly gave Bren's gift to the law school top billing.

Does that mean that the U.C. Irvine School of Law has lost Bren's gift? The Orange County Business Journal reports that "Bren still is good for $20 million," a somewhat cryptic phrasing—one that leaves open the possibility that Bren withdrew the gift but that he stands ready to reinstate it upon certain conditions. Consistent with that reading, the same source added, "Bren's name could be added later."

UPDATE Marla Jo Fisher, a reporter at the Orange County Register and a fellow blogger at College Life O.C., got this update from UCI spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon: “There has been no renegotiation of the gift agreement. We do not have to give back the $20 million.”

She also got this email from the Irvine Company:
UCI requested the name change in order to be consistent with other UC
schools and the trend away from naming law schools after major donors,
and Mr. Bren agreed to accommodate UCI’s request. His earlier announced
gift of $20 million remains intact and we look forward to a world-class
law school at UCI.
Hope that helps. Please let me know if you need any additional
John Christensen
Vice President, Media Relations
Irvine Company

[Crossposted at MoneyLaw and College Life O.C.]

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great feedback on this question, I wish my forum questions got more input.

11/13/2008 7:37 AM  
Blogger Ani Onomous said...

Is there a point at which there's an obligation to contact the law school to ask? You're reading news releases and stories and going beyond them, speculating that they mean that the law school is $20M poorer than it once was, unless (perhaps) it fulfills new conditions. You might be dead right, but that's pretty significant, and could affect how would-be students and faculty react to it.

A newspaper reporter, even a gossip columnist, would feel obliged to contact the party for comment -- and would say that they tried, if the reaction weren't disclosed. You are not, if you'll forgive me for saying so, wholly disinterested in the ex-Bren law school's fate, though I am sure you wish it no harm -- which might make doing legwork extra appropriate. Should blogs have such different standards of conduct? I'm honestly not sure, but inclined to think not.

11/13/2008 11:14 AM  
Blogger Tom W. Bell said...


You raise the question--if not "age old" than at least "well trod"--of whether bloggers have to do all that good reporters should do. Given that I neither get paid to act as a reporter, nor that I hold myself out as one, I don't feel any obligation to take on a reporter's obligations. (That said, I think that I did more than the professionals did in checking the Internet Archives. Sometimes you learn more by doing your own research than you do by regurgitating spokespeople's lines.)

At any rate, you will be pleased to know that I've been working with two *real* reporters--the woman who runs herd on the O.C. Register blog where I cc'ed this post and the reporter from the Orange County Business Journal whom I quoted--so that they might follow up. The former has already begun trying to contact Irvine (I've not heard from the latter.) But I posted at 3:30 am, and it only just turned 9 am out here, so nobody has had much of a chance to update the story.


11/13/2008 12:38 PM  
Blogger Ani Onomous said...


I am not sure your initial post, let alone your reply, is consistent with a premise that you're not holding yourself out as a reporter in this instance. It's more like you're electing to report what you feel like, and then stopping. It strikes me as different than when a blogger reacts to a news report by, for example, arguing about what it signifies or criticizing views expressed within it; you're reporting a few facts and then insinuating, for want of a better word.

Anyway, your follow-up raises the obvious question of why you simply didn't wait to hear from the reporters with whom you've been working, who presumably were in the process of doing what reporters do. Was it because you didn't want to be scooped?

I do understand your point of view, and don't mean to be hostile. I'm just wary of answers to the effect of "I'm not responsible for living up to that standard because I'm not paid to and haven't explicitly assumed that role." And FWIW, I think the responsibility isn't limited to reporters at all.

11/13/2008 5:45 PM  
Blogger Tom W. Bell said...


The word I'd use is, "hypothesizing," for I tentatively offered a theory consistent with the available facts. I did not offer it as truth, but limited myself to asking questions. Even reporters cover stories in stages, as evidence comes forth. That model is all the more appropriate for blogging, which works incrementally and cooperatively. Thus, here, you see that different people added different bits to the story as it unfolded.

11/14/2008 10:28 AM  
Blogger Ani Onomous said...


You might want to reexamine what you've written at some other point, and imagine that someone were writing about your institution (as opposed to you writing it about a nascent competitor). Limiting yourself to asking questions, as you say, is a small defense; I don't need to trot out the hypotheticals about irresponsible questions, and note again that the issue isn't with the entitlement to ask questions -- it's rather giving those in the know the chance to respond, even communicating your post, as opposed to letting them linger in the ether. As it happens, they did not linger long in this instance, but that just reduces the value of you posting on this in the interim. I take the point that even reporters do things incrementally, but again, they try to cultivate the facts on the questions they pose.

I can imagine lots of models for blogging, and they include posing questions in a responsible fashion -- maybe even to provoke reporting. The niche I really don't grasp is one in which you report news items, pose questions you know are being posed by others before they tender the hypothesis that you are bold enough to do (because they feel it is responsible for them to do so), and the value added of the blog post is to get it out there before the hypothesis can be confirmed or denied . . . though you expect it will be done shortly, or you could do it with a phone call.

Anyway, you've been gracious in replying, and I don't expect to change your view of the matter. Thanks.

11/14/2008 11:48 AM  
Blogger Tom W. Bell said...


I thank you for your critical comments. I doubt that I can judge my own actions very objectively, so I need others' help to keep me on the up and up. You've not convinced me that a blogger should adopt all the strictures that bind good reporters, though you have made me more mindful of why good reporters do what they do. I probably will change a bit how I blog as a result, though on a margin rather narrower than one you would probably counsel.

11/14/2008 4:37 PM  

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