After more than two years of review, polling, and discussion, the CSU board of trustees voted unanimously to exclude John Marshall’s name from law school, in part on the basis of his slaveholding past. The decision took effect immediately, with plans to remove Marshall’s name online and from signage.
For now, as Robert Higgs reports from cleveland.com, the law school will be known as Cleveland State University School of Law. But should this be her permanent name?
The suggestion to name it CSU Law School came from P. Kelly Tompkins, the leader of the law school in residence, Higgs reports, who noted that it would be a strong brand for the law school and would not alienate any stakeholders.
But it’s not the only renaming proposal that has been made since a 2020 petition first called for a new name for the law school.
Retired Cleveland municipal judge Ronald Adrin proposed renaming in honor of Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court’s first black justice—a better name Marshall, he offered, for the law school.
Retired appellate judge Patricia Ann Blackmun proposed honoring the late Ann Aldrich, the first woman appointed to a U.S. District Court in Ohio and the first woman to serve as a law professor in Cleveland, who advocated and mentored minorities seeking legal training.
Cleveland attorney Terry Billups suggested naming the law school after one of the Stokes brothers—the late Carl and/or Louis—as embodying the law school’s ethos of helping open up opportunities for black attorneys to succeed.
A speechwriter offered the idea of finding a wealthy donor to endow the law school with $20 million or more for new initiatives and scholarships in exchange for his or her name.
So, what does the editorial board think about the round table? Now that the John Marshall name is gone, if Cleveland State University’s law school simply had that name, or should it be named to honor the legal pioneers closer to home—or as a way to attract a great deal of endowment money to do more to diversify the legal profession and allow more disadvantaged students to attend?
Leila Atassi, Director of Public Interest and Advocacy:
It’s important to remember a key lesson here: no one is outside scrutiny or blame. This is especially true of anyone who becomes a namesake in law school. Their legacy must live up to a moral code for posterity. To avoid going through that pain again, let’s keep it simple: Cleveland State University School of Law.
Thomas Sodes, editorial writer:
The school should be named after Thurgood Marshall, whose jurisprudence has arguably had more influence on American legal history than any other black American.
Ted Diedion, Columnist:
I’m tired of this argument. Let’s just assume that all of our historical founders were fanatical slave-owning punks who didn’t deserve to have their names memorialized in any public building, institution or entity, and that’s it. Call it Dewey, Cheatem & Howe Law School or “We Will Make Them Pay,” for all I care.
Lisa Garvin, editorial board member:
CSU Law School is the most reasonable and least controversial option. Historical figures, no matter how important they are, have a lot of baggage that people would rather erase than contextualise. Self-naming a law school is good for both brands and the spirit of the school, without worrying that history might come back to haunt them.
Victor Ruiz, member of the editorial board:
I commend CSU for taking this step. However, proposing to keep the name as CSU College of Law so as not to alienate any stakeholders is cowardly. For centuries, many of us have felt alienated by seeing the names of slave owners on buildings, so it’s time to honor those who truly represent our values.
Mary Kay Doherty, Editorial Board Member:
She opposed renaming the law school. We can simultaneously honor Judge Marshall’s judicial contributions and lament his moral failings as a slaveholder–evaluating both the complexities of his time, not just ours. But moving forward, the school should be nameless. We cannot predict which hero today will be deemed unworthy of honor tomorrow.
Elizabeth Sullivan, Opinion Director:
CSU, do not dilute. The late Ann Aldrich, who served with distinction for three decades on the federal bench and was a professor at CSU Law School for twelve years prior, worked selflessly to advance the cause of justice for all, including legal training and job opportunities for minorities.
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