UC Berkeley's law school is one of the West Coast’s most prestigious, but after more than 100 years, the university is considering removing the name Boalt Hall.
A committee of students, faculty and staff is recommending the name go because it pays tribute to a known racist. The proposal has launched a heated debate.
Ultimately, if the Boalt name is eliminated, it will be up to the law school's dean to make a recommendation and then up to the university chancellor to make the final decision on a name change.
Berkeley's law school has held the Boalt Hall name since Elizebeth Boalt gifted the university $100,000 in 1911 to build it beyond a single classroom. She donated the money in memory of her late husband John Henry Boalt, a prominent attorney, president of the Bohemian Club and a strong supporter of excluding Chinese immigration because he believed them to be morally and intellectually inferior.
First-year law student Kevin Chen is one of many who wants Boalt’s name removed but not his impact.
"I’m Chinese-American, so I clearly don’t agree with what he said. But he did have an impact. Like, his wife’s donation did have an impact in the school," Chen said. "He said those things; they’re part of our history. We have to recognize that we can’t erase that."
Dean Erwin Chemerinsky is giving students faculty staff and alumni until Oct. 31 to weigh in on what should be done about the name.
"There’s no doubt that what John Boalt said was despicable and racist," Chemerinsky said. "The question is what do we do about it now. There are many alums from the years that believe we should remove the Boalt name because of the racist statements, and there are many alums that believe that tradition matters, and we should continue to use the name Boalt."
Chemerinsky added that it’s the alumni that are the most passionate in their responses to the proposed change, both for and against. He announced the committee recommendation to remove Boalt’s name Monday, and by noon Tuesday, he’d received more than 300 emails.
Chemerinsky wouldn’t say which side was in the majority or even that he would make his recommendation to the chancellor based on the numbers.