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Chancellor Carol Christ: Why we denamed Boalt Hall

"Boalt’s views clearly stand in opposition to our university’s values," Chancellor Carol Christ wrote

Chancellor Christ in her office at California Hall.

“Boalt’s views clearly stand in opposition to our university’s values,” Chancellor Carol Christ wrote. (Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)

Chancellor Carol Christ sent the following message to the campus community early Thursday morning: 

I am writing to inform you that, as of this morning, the name “Boalt Hall” has been officially removed from the UC Berkeley School of Law’s main classroom building. That facility will now be known as The Law Building.

This outcome is the result of significant study and consultation involving thousands of members of the Berkeley community over the course of several years, a process which culminated in UC President Janet Napolitano’s approval of the decision to remove the name this month.

In 2017, it came to light that Boalt Hall’s namesake — John Henry Boalt — was a leading figure in the movement to ban those of Chinese ancestry from the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Boalt made profoundly offensive and racist statements about Chinese and Chinese Americans, suggesting that it would be better to “exterminate” those of Chinese descent than to have them assimilate. Indeed, Boalt’s principal historical legacy is not of any significant contribution to either the law or to UC, but of helping lay the groundwork for the infamous Chinese exclusion policies of the late 19th century.

Boalt’s views clearly stand in opposition to our university’s values of inclusion and our belief in the relationship between diversity and excellence. Still, removing the name of a building is a consequential decision that requires careful study and consideration of different viewpoints from across our community. For more than two years, the campus engaged in this kind of fair, open, and meaningful deliberation. The law school assembled a diverse committee of students, staff, faculty, and alumni to explore the issue in depth, reviewing the historical record and holding a town hall meeting to gain community input. Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky himself solicited hundreds of comments from the law school and its alumni. And, ultimately, our campus’s Building Name Review Committee — tasked with reviewing proposals to remove potentially problematic building names — analyzed the issue and conducted its own outreach to the campus.

There is no question that building names are powerful symbols for those who walk across our campus.”

– Chancellor Carol Christ

In each of these cases, the committees recommended striking the Boalt name from the law school, while also constructing a historical marker to acknowledge our university’s connections to the Boalt family and the story of the building name. I supported this conclusion and submitted it to UC President Napolitano for her approval this past December. Last week, I received word that President Napolitano was also in agreement, allowing us to proceed with the removal of the Boalt name.

This is the first time a UC Berkeley building has had its name removed because the values of its namesake were so out of sync with those of our institution. Determining how to approach this was a new task, and I would like to thank some of the many individuals and groups who played roles in it, particularly Berkeley Law lecturer Charles Reichmann, who uncovered John Henry Boalt’s racist history; Dean Chemerinsky, for leading a thoughtful and even-handed examination of a complex question; the committees that conducted research on Boalt and weighed the merits of a name change; and every member of our community who took part in the discussion.

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.