Dear Berkeley Law Community,
I very much appreciate those who have shared their views with me on the use of the Boalt name and their reactions to the Committee’s report. I received over 600 messages since I circulated the report on September 10. The responses were fairly evenly divided, with about 60% favoring seeking to eliminate our use of the Boalt name on our building and in our activities, and about 40% wanting to keep it.
I received passionate, persuasive messages on both sides of the issue. There was some correlation to when the writer graduated, but less than I expected. There were many who graduated in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s who favored changing the name, and many who graduated recently or are currently attending the law school who wanted to keep the name. Those who self-identified as individuals of color overwhelmingly, but not unanimously, favored changing the name. I was surprised that there was more of a political reaction to this than I expected: those who indicated that they were politically conservative overwhelmingly favored keeping the name.
I confess that I have changed my mind several times over the course of this process. I find this a very difficult question. I am reassured, though, that ultimately this is about a symbol, not the substance of the law school. Berkeley Law is a terrific, very special place whether we officially use the name Boalt or not.
As I struggled with this issue, I began with the following premises:
1. The law school never has been officially named anything other than University of California, Berkeley School of Law. It never was officially named “Boalt.” Dean Chris Edley did not change the name of the law school. He decided that we should refer to it as “Berkeley Law.” He made this choice because “Berkeley” has great recognition and esteem around the country and the world; “Boalt” is not nearly as widely known. I think this is especially true internationally.
2. No gift had terms requiring that the 1950 wing of the current building be named “Boalt Hall” nor that any organizations or activities in the law school be named Boalt. The terms of Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt’s will specified that two professorships would be named for John and Elizabeth Boalt. Any change in these would require a request to the Attorney General of California to go to court. The Committee made no recommendation for doing this.
3. John Boalt said racist things, especially about those of Chinese ancestry, and also about African-Americans and Native Americans. We must remember the racism he expressed as it is part of the history of our country and region and was said by someone whose name we have been associated with for a century.
4. Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt was very generous to the university in providing financial support. No matter what we do, we must continue to honor and remember her generosity. A large portrait of her hangs in the corridor with the largest classrooms. That must remain and we should look for other ways to remember her contributions to the law school.
5. This is solely about the official use of the Boalt name for part of our building and for our organizations and activities. Our alumni, of course, can continue to refer to the law school as Boalt, or however they wish. Also, it does not change the “branding” of the law school in the larger legal and public community. As it has been for the past decade, we will continue to refer to ourselves as Berkeley Law.
Thus, the use of the Boalt name is entirely “honorific.” The gifts were made by Elizabeth Boalt to honor her husband John. The question is whether we should continue to honor John Boalt by the use of his name on a wing of our building and in our organizations and activities. I was moved by the many who wrote me expressing their discomfort with honoring someone who expressed vile racism, especially without anything to point to that would justify honoring him as an individual.
Many who wrote me opposing the name change observed that many other notable individuals – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Albert Einstein, Earl Warren – owned slaves or said racist things or supported racist policies. But I think in those instances there are good reasons to honor these individuals notwithstanding their racist statements and actions. I cannot think of a comparable reason why we should continue to honor John Boalt.
It cannot be that a naming in honor of a person never should be changed (we all can imagine namings in honor of a person that we would want changed) and it cannot be that namings are easily changed. Ultimately, the question is whether, based on all we know of a person, we should continue to honor the person by using his or her name. I was especially moved by the views of many of our students and alumni of color who expressed discomfort in being part of a school where important aspects of its operation are named for someone who expressed such racism.
Many wrote to me to argue for an opposite conclusion. Some said that we should name everything for Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt. After all, she never expressed racism and she was the one who gave the money. I was tempted by this solution. But the reality is that doing so would change nothing about the use of the Boalt name and besides, she gave the money to honor John Boalt.
Some said that the Boalt name is a valuable brand and we will hurt the law school by changing the name. But the only things under consideration are the name of the wing of the building called “Boalt Hall” and our organizations and student activities. I do not think that changing these will affect perception of the law school in the profession or more generally. These namings are entirely internal.
Thus, I accept the recommendations of the Committee and come to the following conclusions:
1. We will recommend to the campus Building Name Review Committee that it de- name the wing of the building known as “Boalt Hall.” Removing the name of a building is ultimately a decision by the Chancellor and not one the law school can make on its own.
2. There are many things within the law school that use the name Boalt. We will cease using the Boalt name for these. We encourage organizations within the law school to discontinue the use of the name “Boalt” in their organization names and activities. Many already have done this. For example, lecturer positions (as distinct from the professorships mentioned above) named for the Boalts will be renamed in honor of our recent deans: Jesse Choper, Herma Hill Kay, and Christopher Edley.
3. We will take additional steps to ensure that Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt and her generosity continue to be recognized. We also will take steps to ensure that the racism underlying the Chinese Exclusion Act be remembered. I will provide more details about this in the months ahead.
I again want to thank the Committee which worked for many months on this issue and all who participated in the process. I wish there could be a solution that pleased everyone. In the end, I am reassured that we all are united in our desire to make this one of the finest law schools in the world.
As always, I, of course, am available to discuss this and to hear your thoughts.