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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Who Owns a Brand? Do Certain Brands Carry Duties to Beneficiaries?

What if instead of going to AMSL, you went to Harvard and shortly after graduating, Harvard University announces that it is going to move to SW Floridia, create a new lifestyle town and transform the Harvard "brand" into a life-style brand for homosexuals along with a giant Harvard Bath House in the middle of the town? (bear with me)

When you purchased your law school education, you also had a reasonable expectation about the "branding" of the institution as a professional, accredited law school that has a reputation for high standards of LEGAL excellence and scholarship; you never considered purchasing a "homosexual lifestyle brand" to be associated with your professional degree for the rest of your career. THAT "brand value" wasn't included in your expectations.

Now that you are a graduate of Harvard "Homosexual Lifestyle Brand" Law School, you get funny questions during employment interviews (and they don't call you back) and in casual conversations about the source of your professional training. It becomes a burden that you never sought or desired, but none the less, now have to live with for the rest of your life as an attorney.

The question is: Who owns the "Harvard" brand when the brand meaning and value is accrued to a host of beneficiaries? Does Harvard University/Law School have the sole discretion to change the meaning of their branding when it effects so many lives, or does it have inherent duties in regard to maintaining the meaning and value of the brand in continuity with the meaning and value that the beneficiaries purchased and have come to reasonably expect?

The Harvard brand you thought you were getting had a meaning and value of "quality academic reputation and scholarship", now it has a meaning of "gay fun in the sun, and study a bit."

Has their been a "taking," a misrepresentation, a fraud, a breach of implicit duties in having the meaning of your branding change?

Put another way:

Did any of you go to AMSL because you wanted to be associated with Tom Monaghan's Catholic Lifestyle Brand?

Does anyone remember when the history of AMSL was re-written to take the founding faculty out of it and recast AMSL as the sole project of Monaghan and Dobranski? Was this part of the rebranding of AMSL?

How many of you love to be asked about Tom Monaghan and Florida when you reveal where you went to law school? Did you come to AMSL to associate your career with this meaning and "value"?

How many of you feel betrayed and angry that you thought you were purchasing a distinctive Natural Law Catholic Legal Education "brand value" associated with the scholarship and reputation of men like Charles Rice and Judge Bork and located in the Midwest corridor of great legal institutions, and expectations and targets that were heading for tier 1 status; and got a pizza man Catholic nut job lifestyle brand in a Florida swamp and tier 4 instead?

This line of questions obviously presents a novel approach to claiming an injury, but one that deserves a closer look. Brand value is something that is definable and part of the contractual/beneficiary mix when approaching something like a law school. As alumni, we have a concrete interest in seeing that value grow and in protecting it from harm. Destroying that value is an injury to the alumni on a number of levels.

For example, the motto is Faith AND Reason, yet, now the Ave Maria lifestyle Catholic brand is associated with a very fringe version of faith and is associated with irrationality, i.e., fanaticism and wackyness.

What is the impact of this on our careers?

I remember the brief time when being a graduate from AMSL was considered admirable, laudatory and an opportunity to talk about what the Natural Law is and how important it is to our civil society; now I have to explain all things Ave Maria and the conversation turns away from a mission focus to a discussion about the catholic nut job pizza man and how I was never intentionally associated with him. I suffered through an interview once trying to convince them that I was not a fundamentalist socket boy, all because of Monaghan's lifestyle branding.