The University of Montana School of Law will be renamed the Alexander Blewett III School of Law, according to an action item on Thursday's Montana Board of Regents agenda.
Alexander and Andrea Blewett of Great Falls will give the school a $10 million "naming gift," one of the two largest single gifts UM has received, according to the law school.
"The Blewetts' transformational gift will nearly double the size of the law school's endowment, raising it to over $21 million," reads the Board of Regents' memo about the name change.
Alexander Blewett is head of the Hoyt and Blewett PLLC law firm, a "nationally recognized personal injury firm," according to its website.
A foundation guideline notes UM can negotiate naming a school with a gift of $10 million, and a building for $4 million, said Greg Munro, interim dean of the School of Law. If approved, he said, the $10 million gift from the Blewetts will be 12 times the largest gift the law school has received in its 100 years.
"All told, that package is a tremendous boon to the school," Munro said.
The Board of Regents will take up the name change at its meeting in Kalispell on Thursday. The matter is listed as an action item for the board's 1:30 p.m. session at Flathead Valley Community College.
The UM School of Law is relatively small, Munro said, so the gift is enormous for a school of its size. The law school admits some 84 students each year, according to its website.
The only other gift that's been as large is the $10 million the Washington family gave to the School of Education, he said.
The Blewett gift is unique because it allocates funds – $3.5 million – for an endowed chair in consumer law and consumer protection, a new faculty post, he said. These days, he said, energy and pharmaceutical centers are more popular than consumer protection.
"Almost no schools have such a thing," Munro said.
The agreement also earmarks $2.7 million for a program in consumer protection and access to justice, with money going toward lectures, symposiums and student stipends at places that promote the cause, he said.
The gift also sets aside $1.5 million in a discretionary fund for the law school, and it includes an $800,000 donation the Blewetts made last year for scholarships, he said.
Then, $1.5 million is set aside for the Access to Legal Education Scholarship Fund, and it's a matching program with the potential for even more contributions.
"The scholarship donation is structured as a giving challenge," reads the Board of Regents' memo. "For every gift of at least $500 others give toward law scholarships, the Blewetts will agree to match those donations with an equal contribution. ... If the challenge is met, new scholarship donations will total $3 million."
Other parties at UM approved the renaming within the past 30 days, according to the UM Foundation. Approvals began with the School of Law faculty on or around May 1, the Faculty Senate on May 7, the School of Law dean, and later the UM provost and president.
Melissa Wilson, assistant vice president of marketing and communications at the foundation, said UM looks at a variety of criteria when it considers a name change. She said the most recent and comparable renaming at UM took place in 2009 with the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences.
"The two deals are on par from a donation perspective," Wilson said.
The factors UM considers include service and relationship to the university, giving, legacy and honor, and comparable gifts and naming at other universities, she said. The donor's reputation is also one of the criteria.
By comparison, last fall, Hofstra University in New York received a $20 million donation, the largest in its history, from Maurice Deane, according to Bloomberg. In a tribute to the donor, the private institution of some 12,000, including 850 law students, renamed its law school the Maurice A. Deane School of Law.
In March, the Indiana University Maurer School of Law announced a $20 million gift from the estate of alumnus Lowell E. Baier, according to the IU Newsroom. The school enrolled 184 students in the most recent school year, and in recognition of the gift, it named its law building Baier Hall and its library after Baier's mentor, Jerome Hall Law Library.
Arizona State University broke ground last fall on a new $129 million law school building, and at a celebration, it honored donors including a Phoenix couple who had given $10 million, according to ASU News. Its college of law is named after retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who attended the groundbreaking ceremony.
O'Connor received a bachelor's and law degree from Stanford University, and she was the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court. In naming its law school after O'Connor, Arizona State recognized "her lifelong dedication to public service, her intellectual vigor and her sense of fair-mindedness."
In 2014, Arizona State accepted roughly 625 students into its law program.
According to the UM Foundation, the Faculty Senate at UM approved the renaming in executive session; the item is not listed on its agenda.
The memo about the gift and renaming was posted with the Board of Regents' agenda for its meeting this week.
"What was posted on their website was the first publicly visible detail around the (name change)," Wilson said.
The renaming wasn't made public earlier for a couple of reasons, Munro said. First of all, the timing is designed for maximum media coverage, he said, and secondly, it wasn't yet approved.
"You have to keep them under wraps in part because they all hinge on approval by the Board of Regents," Munro said.
He also said the Board of Regents requires items be publicly available 48 hours in advance of consideration, and this posting was done within that timeframe.
A detailed look at how the gift met criteria for naming was not available from the UM Foundation or the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education.
In an email, Kevin McRae of the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education said the information posted with the agenda "is the document in its entirety." However, he said the main consideration in naming is whether a gift benefits students on the Montana state university campuses.
"There is no law or policy prohibiting the board from naming buildings or schools or colleges or facilities," McRae said. "The board historically makes each decision on its merits with respect to the value and benefit to students. The value and benefit to students is the key.
"If a contribution would significantly help students, a proposal is going to get significant consideration."
He also said a policy exists for naming buildings, but in this case, the board is naming the School of Law: "The board has authority to name it, and it doesn't need a policy to give the board authority. This is similar to the naming of other colleges and schools."
As examples, he listed the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship at Montana State University in Bozeman, which received a $25 million gift; the Skaggs School of Pharmacy at UM; and the Davidson Honors College at UM.
He said in his 10 years, he has never seen the board reject a naming proposal.
A "news tip" from University Relations notes a news conference with UM President Royce Engstrom at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Flathead Valley Community College for "a major announcement relating to the UM School of Law."