I write you regarding a matter of great institutional importance, the name of our law school. This issue may be well known to many in our community but perhaps new to some, so allow me to begin with some background. More details on the College’s efforts are available here.
Shortly after becoming chancellor and dean in 2017, the San Francisco Chronicle published a guest essay describing atrocities attributed to Serranus Hastings, the College’s namesake, in the late 1850s. This prompted my own research into this sordid chapter of California history when the crimes were committed against Native Americans often under color of law or, at times, orchestrated by the State of California itself. This historical review led to the conclusion that California’s first chief justice and attorney general, and the College’s founder, Serranus Hastings, bore responsibility for killings and brutalities against the native tribes of the Eden and Round Valleys, located in what today is known as Mendocino County, and most of all against the Yuki tribal people. It was with this information in hand that the moral imperative to act became evident.
Historical Review, Tribal Outreach, and Restorative Justice Initiatives
In summer 2017, I formed the Hastings Legacy Review Committee. The committee was tasked with further studying this history and reaching out to the Round Valley Indian Tribes (RVIT), Sinkyone InterTribal Wilderness Council, and most importantly, the Yuki people. The committee made recommendations regarding what measures of restorative justice the school might engage in to promote healing and reconciliation for the actions of our founder. To delve deeper into the history, I commissioned a White Paper on Serranus Hastings’ specific responsibility for the killings that occurred in Eden and Round Valleys, written by Brendan Lindsay, the author of Murder State: California’s Native American Genocide, 1846-1873. The committee submitted its findings and recommendations to me in the summer of 2020. During this period, the committee, sometimes with my participation, conferred with the duly elected representatives of the federally recognized Round Valley Indian Tribes and, importantly, with Yuki tribal members.
Based upon the input received from the committee and direct discussions with tribal leadership, I submitted a formal report to the Board of Directors at its September 2020 meeting with my recommendations. In that Report, I noted that the general view was that restorative justice efforts should be our first priority and that discussion of removing the Hastings name from the College was both outside the power of the Board to do without accompanying legislation and not the first priority in establishing a relationship with RVIT and the Yuki people. This emphasis was the subject of an opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee jointly authored by President James Russ of the RVIT and myself.
The restorative justice focus led to a number of immediate initiatives, including the creation of the Indigenous Law Center, setting aside space to memorialize and commemorate the history of the Yuki people, including the atrocities committed against them by the our namesake. We also established summer public interest fellowships to provide legal support to Northern California tribes, created the Restorative Justice Advisory Board, and fundraised to support other initiatives between our two communities, including scholarships.
Board of Directors Authorizes Name Change Discussions
During the last five years, the question as to whether to change the school’s name has repeatedly arisen, but no consensus was reached either within or between the College’s and the tribal members’ communities on this issue. However, in late October 2021, the New York Times published a front-page article that put the issue of the College’s name front and center and brought the matter to national prominence and to members of the California Legislature.
After much consideration, in November 2021, the Hastings Board of Directors voted unanimously to remove the name Hastings from the school. The board directed me to work with the Legislature to seek amendment of the applicable provisions of the Education Code to effect that decision, a determination supported by Director Claes Lewenhaupt, the hereditary holder of the board chair held by the Hastings family.
Two bills have been introduced in the California Legislature, AB 1936 (co-authored by, among others, Assembly Members Ramos and Ting and Senator Umberg) and SB 1288 (co-authored by Senators Umberg, Hertzberg, and Wiener), that would remove the name Hastings from the school. The Senate and Assembly are working collaboratively to make AB 1936 the bill to codify the name change and set forth restorative justice recommendations.
AB 1936 removes the Hastings name. It further provides that “[t]he Legislature requests that the Board of Directors of the law college founded in the City of San Francisco in 1878, after consultation with representatives of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, a federally recognized tribal government, and its designees of the Yuki Indian Committee, make a final recommendation to the Legislature.” AB 1936 emphasizes that this recommendation to the Legislature should follow the conclusion of a “full consultation with the Round Valley Indians Tribes, a federally recognized tribal government, and its designees of Yuki Indian Committee approved by the Round Valley Tribes.”
The College has already begun the consultation process with the RVIT and Yuki Indian Committee. The first consultation between Tribal members and the Board will take place on June 3, 2022, at the Board’s regularly scheduled quarterly meeting. We anticipate that this consultative process will continue over the next two months. In addition, the College is simultaneously consulting with the Office of the President of the University of California seeking their input on the name to recommend to the Legislature. The anticipated timeline has the Board of Directors making its deliberations and conveying a name to the Legislature by the end of July. AB 1936 would then be amended to incorporate the new name before it is passed prior to the conclusion of the legislative term at the end of August 2022. The bill then goes to the Governor for his consideration.
This has been a long and not always straight road to reach this momentous juncture in the College’s history. Having spent my entire professional career at UC Hastings Law, I do not for a moment discount the profound nature of this change. I feel it deeply. However, I have come to understand that it is the right course for the College to take and a path that ultimately will lead to new opportunities and, indeed, national prominence for the law school. This does not diminish my respect for those with different perspectives, as this is an issue upon which reasonable people can disagree.
But it is time to move on. Our campus is expanding greatly, in terms of curriculum, centers, clinics, externships, partnerships with other universities, and physical size. This will give our students expanded opportunities and our school increased stature. If there was ever a time for a new name, one that captures the greatness of our law school, this is that moment.
Ultimately, and for me this is the bottom line, we are and will always be that great University of California law school founded in the City of San Francisco in 1878. That school encompasses all those who have walked through its doors over 144 years of its existence, a group of outstanding alumni—some of the best lawyers to practice that eminent profession—and an incredible group of students, staff, and faculty. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, Hastings by any other name would be as great.
Wishing you all the very best,
David L. Faigman
Chancellor and Dean
John F. Digardi Distinguished Professor of Law
University of California Hastings College of the Law