The inconvenient truth of founder Serranus Hastings’ genocide and enslaving of Native Americans has the law school’s board pushing through a name change, particularly after a big-bucks megadonor demanded it.
It was just one week ago today when the New York Times ran a historical exposé on UC Hastings law school founder Serranus Hastings (1814 – 1893), and the school’s deliberations on whether to remove his name from the school’s title. The law school’s head honchos were against it; the Times piece quoted Hastings’ great-great grandson and permanent board member who said, “I do not think the renaming will benefit the institution,” and Dean David Faigman grousing. “What would removing the Hastings name accomplish?”
What a difference a week and an unflattering New York Times piece makes! The Chronicle reports that the UC Hastings board is now moving to change the name, with Dean Faigman saying, “It is time that the name be addressed and changed,” and great-great grandson saying the legacy was “a stain associated with the name and the college. To move forward with this is the right thing to do.”
As the Chronicle notes, the Gold Rush-era cattle magnate, state Supreme Court justice, and state attorney general Serranus Hastings “sponsored massacres of Native American people in Mendocino County,” and “masterminded a plan for the settlers to hunt and slaughter Native Americans themselves. The campaign he helped finance became part of a three-year murder spree known as the Round Valley Settler Massacres, in which more than 1,000 members of the Powe Nom — more commonly called Yuki — and other tribes were killed.” Hastings started the law school in 1878 with a $100,000 gift in gold, much of it made via taking land through mass killings.
The school’s board voted unanimously to change the name at a Tuesday meeting. “UC Hastings has collaborated with the Yuki People and members of other affected tribes for the last four years in pursuit of restorative justice,” chair of that board Carl Robertson said in a release. “With this vote, we authorize UC Hastings leadership to work in good faith with legislators and other stakeholders to change our school’s name.”
Why the sudden change of heart? We may have a clue! Per the Chronicle, "Trial lawyer Joseph Cotchett, class of ’64, is perhaps Hastings’ most generous alumni donor. Half of the roughly $10 million he’s given helped establish the Cotchett Law Center at 333 Golden Gate Ave., which opened last year and is part of a major Hastings expansion.
Cotchett told The Chronicle he would remove his name from that building if 'Hastings' remains, adding, "I certainly don’t want my name affiliated with an individual who would conduct himself in that fashion."
Since the name is enshrined into law, they do need a legislative bill to change it. State senator Scott Wiener, whose district includes Hastings, sounds happy to oblige.
“Hastings definitely needs a name change,” Wiener told the Chronicle. “The idea that this institution would be named for someone who exterminated Native Americans is untenable. To me, it’s a no-brainer.”
That may come with an unintended consequence — Hastings’ descendants could ask for his money back, in today’s dollars, and with interest. It is, after all, enshrined into an 1878 state law that the school "shall forever be known and designated as the Hastings College of the Law."
At Tuesday’s meeting, the school’s former foundation president Robert Sall said repaying descendants "will be deeply offensive" to the Yuki people and that "the college will find itself in the midst of litigation and perhaps a public uproar."
This is the same law school that produced Vice President Kamala Harris, congressional representative Jackie Speier, the late San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi, and former Mayor Willie Brown.
Brown, for once, spoke humbly on the topic. “I’m not terribly proud of carrying the Hastings name on my law license,” he told the Chronicle. “There is no forgiveness in this.”
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