Students Ask for Immediate Removal of John Marshall's Name from CSU Law School

click to enlarge Students Ask for Immediate Removal of John Marshall's Name from CSU Law School
Cleveland State University
A working group of CSU Law School students calling themselves "Students Against Marshall" sent a formal request Tuesday to the school's dean, Lee Fisher, and the naming committee he chairs asking that former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall's name be immediately removed from the law school.

"Our single objective," read the letter to the 29-member Naming Committee, "is for the CSU Board of Trustees to remove the name of this slave master who built his wealth through ownership of human beings, from all aspects of the law college prior to the Spring 2022 Commencement, ensuring no other C|M|Law student graduates with the name of a brutal slave owner on their diploma."

Students had been individually petitioning school leadership to make such a change in recent years, mobilized by the national reckoning with race in the wake of George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis Police in 2020. Many of the arguments were advanced in guest columns in this publication.

Fisher formed the naming committee at the behest of CSU President Harlan Sands. With representatives from the student body, faculty and alumni, the committee was tasked with making a recommendation to the university's board of trustees—keep the name or don't—and then with proposing an alternate name if necessary. Current students say they've been frustrated by the lack of the committee's progress.

"It just wasn't doing anything," second-year law student Emily Forsee told Scene in a telephone interview Tuesday. Forsee is one of two "public-facing" members of Students Against Marshall and the letter's lead author. "The committee was formed in the aftermath of George Floyd, at a time when the CSU website was slapping woke labels on itself, promising to do better. In that context, the fact that we're commemorating a slaveholder is absurd, and it's taking way too long for them to see that."

Forsee said that the Fisher-led committee has been unwilling to commit to a timetable, and that the ad hoc student group Students Against Marshall finally took it upon themselves to force the issue with the university's board of trustees.

"It's so simple," Forsee said. "They could call a vote tomorrow and vote to remove the name. Period. All they need is a simple majority."

The letter demands immediate action. It acknowledges that the renaming discussions have been lengthy and deliberate, but argues that this shouldn't preclude the board from removing Marshall's name before a new name is selected. (The situation is not unlike asking for the immediate removal of Chief Wahoo, even before a new name for the Cleveland MLB franchise was established.)

The letter asks that the naming committee "commit to severing the renaming issue from the removal issue, and commit to submitting a recommendation for removal to the Board of Trustees" in time to appear on the agenda for the board's next meeting on January 27.

"This has taken so long that we've had a whole class of law school colleagues who graduated with a slaveowner's name on their diplomas," Forsee said. "There are only two more meetings of the board before Spring Commencement. We sent the letter because we want to make sure that it won't happen again."

The letter also follows closely on the heels of an emergency resolution in Cleveland City Council, sponsored by Glenville Councilman Kevin Conwell, urging the CSU Naming Committee to change the law school's name as well.

In response to emailed questions from Scene, a university spokesperson confirmed that the naming committee had no timetable for its decision and had nothing further to add beyond the statement below:

"The College of Law is working through a process evaluating its name. This is a consequential decision that requires careful study, and a thoughtful, inclusive process that considers different viewpoints from our entire law school and university community. Our process has modeled what we teach our law students – to listen and learn, and to withhold judgment until we have had a chance to evaluate what we have heard." 

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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