Citing racist views, committee recommends removal of Boalt name from UC Berkeley law school building

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A committee within the UC Berkeley School of Law announced Monday that it will recommend removing the Boalt name from its current wing of the law school building and various student organizations within the school.

In the spring of 2017, law school Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said it was brought to his attention that John Boalt — after whom the building wing is named because of a donation from his wife, Elizabeth Boalt — was a leading advocate of the Chinese exclusion policy. In his text “The Chinese Question,” John Boalt presented negative views about Black people, Native Americans and Chinese people, according to a document released Monday by Chemerinsky.

“Boalt made deeply offensive and racist statements,” Chemerinsky said in a statement. “These views, which supported the despicable Chinese exclusion policy of the 19th century, raise serious questions about whether we should continue to use the name Boalt in connection with our law school.”

Chemerinsky created the Committee on the Use of the Boalt Name in September 2017 to study the issues and history surrounding Boalt’s writings and recommend a course of action. The committee used sets of principles established by Yale University and UC Berkeley regarding the removal of names from campus buildings.

The committee also considered a survey of students, alumni, staff and faculty as well as comments made at a town hall meeting, which showed a majority support for removal of the name. Ultimately, the committee recommended removing Boalt’s name because it is “not appropriate for a school of this standing to bear this name anymore,” according to committee chair Charles Cannon.

Chemerinsky said he will review these findings and make his final recommendation regarding the use of the Boalt name to Chancellor Carol Christ in November.

“I decided to create as inclusive a process as possible, so all parts of the community could have the opportunity to speak on the issue,” Chemerinsky said. “I’m asking students, faculty, alumni and staff to send me their thoughts by the end of October, and I will make my decision in November.”

According to Chemerinsky’s statement, Berkeley Law never had the name Boalt in its official title, but it became associated with the school because, for a time, Boalt Hall of Law was the only building that housed the law school. Cannon said both the official use of the Boalt name in the law school building and any colloquial uses have been recommended for removal.

In addition to the building wing and student organizations, there are two chairs endowed under Elizabeth and John Boalt’s names. Cannon said the committee did not recommend the removal of these titles because they were created at the bequest of Elizabeth Boalt in her will. This removal would need to be approved by the California attorney general, rather than through the campus and UC system.

Cannon emphasized that the Boalt name would not be erased completely. He said the law school would create a historical display that would tell the story of Elizabeth Boalt and the gift she provided the law school to honor her husband.

“The historical record is really important to the institution,” Cannon said. “We are not talking about stripping the Boalt name out of existence but rather putting it in the proper historical context.”

Campus spokesperson Michael Dirda said removing a name from a building requires “careful study and consideration of different viewpoints from across the campus.”

Cheyenne Overall, the student member of the committee, said the possible removal of the Boalt name has garnered mixed reactions from the student body of the law school. She said, however, that many students welcome the removal and that it will be “well-received.”

“The removal of Boalt’s name would communicate to our community that Berkeley Law is committed to inclusivity, even when difficult conversations have to happen to safeguard that value,” Overall said.

Amanda Bradford is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @amandabrad_uc.