Legal Education

Boalt name is removed from Berkeley Law’s main building

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boalt hall

The Boalt Hall in 2015. Photo by Art Anderson via Wikimedia Commons.

The last name of John Boalt, a 19th-century mining industry baron who favored prohibiting Chinese immigration and also expressed negative views about blacks and Native Americans, has been removed from the University of California at Berkeley School of Law building.

The decision was carried out Jan. 30, and it marks the first time that UC Berkeley has removed the name of someone because his or her values didn’t match up with the university’s views, according to a news release.

The main classroom building at Berkeley Law, formerly known as Boalt Hall, will now be known as “The Law Building.”

“There is no question that building names are powerful symbols for those who walk across our campus. I believe that removing the Boalt name from our law building—while still acknowledging our ties to the Boalt family—will help us recognize a troubled part of Berkeley’s history while better supporting the diverse membership of our academic community,” Chancellor Carol Christ wrote in the news release.

In 2017, the law school assembled a Boalt name committee, which in 2018 recommended that the name be removed from a lecture hall, as well as in internal communications and casual namings.

Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of Berkeley Law and a frequent ABA Journal contributor, told the Journal in an email that use of the Boalt name was not part of the terms of any gift given to the school. Following the Boalt name committee finding, he recommended the use of the Boalt name on the law school building be discontinued.

The campuses building name review committee reached a similar decision.

Earlier this month, Janet Napolitano, the University of California president, approved the decision to remove the Boalt name from the law school, according to the news release.

Elizabeth Boalt, who was John Boalt’s widow, donated two parcels of San Francisco land to the law school in 1906. A week later, the San Francisco earthquake occurred and the school could only sell one parcel of land. According to the Jan. 30 news release, a historical marker will be constructed, with information about the university’s history with the Boalt family.

The law school stopped using the Boalt name in branding 10 years ago, in part because its former dean felt that the Berkeley name was more recognizable outside California, according to Charles Cannon, Berkeley Law senior assistant dean and chief administrative officer who chaired the school’s name committee.

But some people, including those who refer to themselves as “Boalties,” still had some attachment to the name. The law school surveyed 2,000 people with school connections, and 33% were in favor of keeping the Boalt name association.

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