San Francisco

Legal Fight Over Renaming San Francisco Law School

NBC Universal, Inc.

Relatives of the first dean of a San Francisco law school announced Tuesday they're suing to prevent the regents from changing the school's name.

A newly-signed law recently cleared the way for the state to rename UC Hastings College of the Law after questions arose about the school's namesake, Serranus Hastings, and his abuses of indigenous people.

Relatives of Hastings say recent historic articles have clouded his reputation and that they grew up knowing their heir as one of California's first Supreme Court justices and proud founder of the law college.

"I have always felt terrible at what's happened to the Indians. It's our government all over the United States. It was not Serranus," Hastings family member Scott Hastings Breeze said. "It was our government. A lot of atrocities, a lot of bad things happened."

The battle over renaming UC Hastings Law School in San Francisco continues. NBC Bay Area’s Sergio Quintana has the story.

According to state law from 1876, Hastings agreed to give California $100,000 in gold coins to establish the state's first law school. In exchange, it would carry his name and have at least one heir serve on the school's board of directors.

But in 2017, the school set out on a yearslong reexamination of Hastings' financial ties to a militia that cleared indigenous people from land he purchased in the late 1850s.

School leaders ultimately decided to change the school's name.

"When atrocities are committed, you can't do anything about changing that past, but you can definitely change the future," said state Assemblyman Phil Ting, the author of the newly-passed legislation that allows for the name change. "And I think the first thing you have to do is apologize for what happened, acknowledge what happened. As a state, that's what we're doing."

A prepared statement from the school in response to the lawsuit reads, in part, "the college remains committed to moving forward with the name change, and to continuing our restorative justice efforts with the support of the campus community."

Aside from the historical arguments, the plaintiffs say that changing the name is essentially a breach of contract that was reached back when the school was established in 1878.

"Whether by popular opinion or a dean or whatever woke issue du jour changes opinion about something does not allow the state to abrogate this contract," said Harmeet Dhillon, the attorney representing the relatives of Hastings.

They want the UC Hastings College of the Law name to remain or they want the state to pay back the $100,000 in gold coins their relative once paid for the naming rights. At today's rate, that could be tens of millions of dollars.

Contact Us