Dear Berkeley Law Community,
Across the country, universities are facing the difficult question of when to discontinue the use of names or images of individuals who took positions that are now regarded as hateful. No one advocates removing all use of the names of Thomas Jefferson or James Madison because they were slaveholders. But removing statues of Robert E. Lee from campuses has met with widespread approval.
Berkeley Law, too, faces this issue. It came to light that John Boalt was a leading advocate for the exclusion from the United States of those of Chinese ancestry. Boalt made deeply offensive and racist statements. These views, which supported the despicable Chinese exclusion policy of the 19th century, raise serious questions about whether we should continue to use the name Boalt in connection with our law school.
But I also am aware that many of our alumni are quite attached to referring to our law school as “Boalt Hall” and calling themselves “Boalties.” Of course, they may and will continue to do so if they wish. The issue, though, is whether we should officially use the name “Boalt” in light of John Boalt’s racist statements.
I created a committee to study this issue. The committee was comprised of an administrator (Senior Assistant Dean and Chief Administrative Officer Charles Cannon), an alum (Quyen Ta), a faculty member (Professor Leti Volpp), a staff member (gar Russell), and a student (Cheyenne Overall).
I am very grateful to the members of the committee for their hard work on this issue. They did extensive research, solicited comments from all in our community (they received over 2,000 responses), and held a public forum. In late June, they submitted their report to me, which you can find here. I decided to wait until students returned for the new semester to circulate this to our community.
The committee’s research revealed that the law school, as opposed to the building, was never officially named Boalt Hall. The committee’s report documents that in 1950 the UC Regents formally changed the name of the law school from University of California, Berkeley, School of Jurisprudence to University of California, Berkeley, School of Law when the school moved to its new building on Bancroft, the instructional wing of which was designated by the Regents as “Boalt Hall of Law.”
In “branding” the law school as “Berkeley Law,” Dean Christopher Edley did not change the name, but rather chose a title similar to other law schools (e.g., Harvard Law, Stanford Law, etc.) and that would have meaning throughout the world. Also, the committee’s research suggests that the 1950 wing of the current law school complex known as “Boalt Hall” was a naming made in honor of the original Boalt Hall of Law (now Durant Hall), named in honor of Elizabeth Boalt’s 1906 gift. (The law school complex is comprised of four buildings that interconnect: North Addition, South Addition, Simon Hall, and Boalt Hall). The only naming designated in Elizabeth’s Boalt’s subsequent bequest was the two professorships called the John and Elizabeth Boalt Professors.
As you will see from the report, the committee weighs in on three principal issues related to the Boalt name. The committee does not recommend any action to change the names of these professorships because they were designated in Elizabeth Boalt’s bequest. The committee recommends submitting a request to the campus’ Building Name Review Committee to remove the name from the part of our buildings known as “Boalt Hall.” The law school cannot do this on its own. Finally, the committee recommends eliminating the use of the name Boalt in organizations and law school activities. This, of course, is in the control of the law school.
I will respond to the committee’s recommendations in November. I know this is an issue that generates intense feelings on all sides. So before taking any action, I want all to have the chance to be heard. Please feel free to share your thoughts with me in any form you wish. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I would appreciate receiving any comments by October 31, 2018.
On a daily basis, I am honored to be part of this warm, wonderful community of alumni, faculty, staff, and students. I know that what unites us in the desire to make this the best possible law school so outweighs any issues where we may disagree.
Dean, Berkeley Law
Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law
Read the full committee report here.