George Mason Faculty Senate Questions Decision to Rename Law School After Scalia

April 28, 2016

George Mason University’s plan to rename its law school after Antonin Scalia, the late Supreme Court justice, is once again under fire. But this time the criticism is more substantive than the unfortunate acronym resulting from the Antonin Scalia School of Law, ASSOL (that controversy ended in a tweaking -- while the official name will remain the same, the school will be referred to as the Antonin Scalia Law School). The university’s Faculty Senate on Wednesday voted 21-13 to approve a resolution calling into question Scalia’s legacy on decisions involving historically marginalized groups -- echoing similar discussions at Georgetown University in the wake of Scalia’s death -- and the $30 million in funding behind the name change, $10 million of which comes from the conservative Charles Koch Foundation.

“The senate recognizes that the gifts provide $30 million in scholarship support for law students and memorialize Justice Scalia’s many years of public service and his intellectual contributions to jurisprudence,” reads the resolution. At the same time, it says, the senate finds problematic “the celebration of a Supreme Court justice who made numerous public offensive comments about various groups -- including people of color, women and [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer] individuals -- which this university has appropriately gone to some lengths to embrace as valued parts of the university community.” Also troubling to the senate, according to the resolution, is “the reinforcement of the external branding of the university as a conservative institution rather than an unaligned body that is a comfortable home for individuals with a variety of viewpoints.”

The faculty resolution accuses university leaders of not being forthcoming about the terms of the funding agreement and how George Mason will financially honor those terms after the initial funding period expires. The resolution urges the George Mason’s Board of Visitors and administration to “underscore the university’s support for civil discourse that bridges the great diversity present” on campus and “highlight to external audiences that the university is not aligned with any single ideological position and is a friendly home to faculty, staff, students and others with diverse points of view,” among other things. The resolution also calls on George Mason to “explain more fully the university’s plan to manage its responsibility for future funding of new law school faculty and centers without detriment to other units in the university” and “commit to honest, open communication with faculty and other university stakeholders.”

A university spokesperson did not provide immediate comment. Suzanne Slayden, a professor of chemistry and Faculty Senate parliamentarian and chair of the body’s Academic Policies Committee, said the day’s resolution did not formally oppose the Scalia name, but that such proposals will be introduced at the senate’s next meeting.

Dozens of faculty and staff members already have signed a separate letter condemning the decision to make Scalia synonymous with George Mason’s law school. “The values that Scalia affirmed from the bench do not reflect the values of our campus community,” the letter says. “Further, the renaming decision was made without regard for faculty, staff and student input and consent.”

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