Monday Morning Message 1.10.22 What's in a Name?

Posted 2022-01-10 10:11am

“What’s in a name?” – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

“For every complex problem, there is a solution that is clear, simple, and wrong.” – H.L. Mencken

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey

This morning, I am writing to remind you to provide feedback on the very important issue of whether our Law School should continue to be named after Chief Justice John Marshall, who, in addition to being the fourth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was also a slaveholder.

If you already submitted your feedback, thank you. If not, please complete the short Law School Name Feedback Form asap.

However, please first take the time to read this entire message and to read or review the Law School Name Framing Document before completing the Feedback Form. Even if you already have a view on this issue, please take the time to be better informed.

I think that many of those who want to change our law school’s name and those who want to keep our name are undervaluing the positions of those that disagree with them; in other words, I think there are valid arguments for and against a name change and people need to listen carefully to different views even if they don’t change their minds.

Some, on all sides of the issue, would have preferred that we make a quick recommendation because to them the answer is clear and obvious. They believe that we should not have undertaken a process of listening and learning. I respectfully disagree.

We teach our students at CSU Cleveland-Marshall that to be effective advocates and problem-solvers, they must be able to step outside the constraints of their own immediate, biased frames of reference and understand the viewpoints of not only their clients but also their adversaries. That’s one of the reasons we send each student who is admitted to CSU C|M|LAW, a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, in which Atticus Finch says, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

We have a special responsibility to listen to and respect Law School and University community members who are particularly affected by and sensitive to Chief Justice Marshall’s association with slavery. We also have a responsibility to listen to and respect those graduates for whom the name of the Law School has meant access to careers and life-long accomplishments.

I believe that our law school name process has modeled what we teach our students-  as lawyers, we are trained to listen and learn, and to withhold judgment until we have had a chance to evaluate what we have heard.

Please complete the short Feedback Form at the below link by Monday, January 17, 2022:

Law School Name Feedback Form  

(Please note that this feedback instrument prevents the user from completing the form more than once. In the unlikely event you have any technical problems, please email LawSchoolName@gmail.com)

While the ultimate authority for deciding whether to change our name rests at the University level, our Law School has a responsibility to provide our University partners with as much relevant information as possible so that an informed decision can be made. The results of the Feedback Form from all of our various stakeholders will be one very important piece of the information we will provide to the University.

Below is a link to the Law School Name Framing Document. This document recommends guiding principles for making this decision, and outlines the controversy surrounding Chief Justice John Marshall’s name and provides arguments both for and against changing the name of our Law School. It should be noted that the primary issue before us now is whether to retain or remove the name of John Marshall from our Law School. We have, however, included a brief section in the Framing Document devoted to some possible alternative names simply for context and discussion.

Law School Name Framing Document

Background

In the summer of 2020, we received a petition urging CSU Cleveland-Marshall and UIC John Marshall Law School in Chicago to remove any reference to Chief Justice John Marshall in our law schools’ names because of Chief Justice Marshall’s association with slavery. I have publicly noted that we must take the petition to change the name of our Law School and the spirit in which it was written very seriously. I immediately formed a Law School Name Committee (“Committee”) consisting of faculty, staff, students, and alumni to seek wide input, develop findings and options, and make a recommendation, or alternative recommendations, for consideration about whether “Marshall,” named after Chief Justice John Marshall, should be removed from our Law School’s name.

The Committee hosted three public virtual forums during the 2021 spring semester to provide context to the issue of whether we should continue to name our Law School after Chief Justice Marshall. These forums were not intended to directly deal with the question of whether we should change our name or to advocate for any particular viewpoint. Rather, the purpose was to better understand how historians view institutional name changes and how other institutions have approached similar issues. The forums intentionally presented differing views and opinions on this subject.

We also hosted three community town halls during the 2021 fall semester to allow our students, staff, faculty, and many alumni to express their views. The links to the forums and town halls are on the Law School Name Website. The Committee also created a Law School Name Resource Guide.

Some Thoughts

So far, I’ve reached a few conclusions.

First, 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. But it also cannot be that namings should be easily changed. Removing “Marshall” from our law school’s name would be a consequential decision that  requires careful study and thoughtful consideration of different viewpoints from our entire law school and university community. The legacy of Chief Justice John Marshall is complex and we have drawn on scholarly expertise to explore and examine that legacy as a part of our process.

Second, few, if any, would dispute that John Marshall, from a constitutional law perspective, was the greatest and most important Chief Justice in our nation’s history. We must recognize that few, if any, individuals can meet a standard of perfection. We are all flawed. Many of our historical figures after whom institutions are named led contradictory lives that serve as a constant reminder of our nation’s contradictions. Many of their stories hold multiple truths—that they did truly great things and they did reprehensible things - such as owning, buying, and selling slaves - that we should unequivocally condemn and never excuse. That’s why we have consulted with professional historians and constitutional law experts who have provided essential facts and context.

Third, history comprises both facts and interpretations of those facts. To change the name of a school is not to erase history, but rather to expand on a previous interpretation of history in light of new facts or circumstances. A naming is not history itself; a naming commemorates an aspect of history, representing a moment in the past when a decision defined who would be honored. 

This year, we will celebrate the 125th anniversary of our law school. We are an historic institution and are very proud of our iconic history. The Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University is the direct descendant of two law schools, the Cleveland Law School founded in 1897, and the John Marshall School of Law, founded in 1916. In 1946, the two law schools merged to become Cleveland-Marshall Law School. In 1969, the law school joined Cleveland State University and was renamed the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University. We consistently have been the law school for many women and men who have broken gender, race, ethnic, economic, and generational barriers to make change and advance progress in social justice, civil rights, and public service.

In considering a name change, we have incorporated wide input and will be guided by our proud history, our guiding values, our Law School’s mission Learn Law, Live Justice, and the values and mission of Cleveland State University. Decisions about naming and renaming must be made with due regard for our educational mission and core values, including our commitments to teaching, quality research, truth-seeking, and inclusivity.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read the Framing Document and to provide your input and feedback. 

Whatever decision is finally made, I hope that those on all sides of the issue will respect the process that we have undertaken.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay Committed to Living Justice.

Have a great day. Have a great week.

For copies of past messages, please go to this link: Monday Morning Messages

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My best,

Lee

Lee Fisher

Dean, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law | Cleveland State University
Joseph C. Hostetler-BakerHostetler Chair in Law

 

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