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Committee convened by Cleveland State president recommends name change for law school

A few dozen gathered for a rally outside of Cleveland State's law school.
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
A few dozen gathered for a rally outside of Cleveland State's law school earlier this year.

An ad hoc committee convened by Cleveland State University President Laura Bloomberg said Thursday that it has submitted to the school's board of trustees a recommendation to change the name of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.

Bloomberg had previously accepted the recommendation on Sept. 2. The board of trustees will take up the matter in November for discussion and a vote.

The committee considered many factors in making its recommendation, but the chief of staff to the president, Patty Franklin, who spoke on behalf of the committee said during a Thursday Board of Trustees committee meeting that the biggest issue remains that John Marshall owned slaves.

"Chief Justice John Marshall was a slave holder who bought and sold slaves throughout his life. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he chose not to free his slaves," she said. "...In a majority minority city, the Marshall name does not represent the community of Cleveland."

Students, faculty, staff and Cleveland City Council have urged the school to change the name via petition and other means.

Law School Dean Lee Fisher said the school went through a lengthy process to analyze all perspectives on changing the name of the school. That included public forums, an online survey and many hours spent by multiple committees.

It was not an easy decision for the school to make, Fisher said, despite people on both sides of the issue thinking it's a "no-brainer," with people who oppose the name change calling it "cancel culture."

"Marshall, who served as the chief justice of our United States Supreme Court for 34 years, longer than any Supreme Court justice in our United States history, is regarded universally by those who follow constitutional law as the greatest chief justice in the history of our country," Fisher acknowledged.

But Fisher went on record during the meeting with his support for changing the name.

"Unlike George Washington, unlike Ben Franklin, he (Marshall) did not free those slaves upon his death," Fisher said. "And his slavery jurisprudence is troubling as well."

Updated: September 15, 2022 at 7:12 PM EDT
This story has been updated to clarify that Thursday's action by the ad hoc committee was to submit their proposal to the school's board of trustees for consideration and a vote.
Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.