Panel Recommends Change to Harvard Law Seal

harvard_law_emblem

Harvard Law School is currently looking to remove its official shield as a result of protests over the emblem’s connection to 18th-century slave traders.

The move was decided upon by a committee put together by Dean Martha L. Minow in an effort to take a closer look at the emblem after protests began last fall, which were shortly followed by the vandalism of the portraits of many of the black professors at the school.  The student group Royall Must Fall began making its push to have the seal removed from the school last fall, as activists demanded better treatment of minorities at the school.

Committee members, which included faculty members as well as students hand-picked by the Law School student government, looked at literature pertaining to the origin of the seal, held several community meetings on the issue in February, listened to feedback from over 1,000 Law School affiliates, and put all the information together at a meeting last week, writes Steve Annear for The Boston Globe.  The result is the creation of an 11-page recommendation and four-page dissenting opinion.

“It’s important to note that in doing this, we were not judging Isaac Royall, a man of the 18th century, by standards of the 21st century,” Professor Bruce Mann, who led the committee, said in a telephone interview. “Instead we were asking whether an institution in the 21st century should be represented by a man of the 18th century whose only legacy was his money.”

Minow announced the committee’s decision last Friday, saying the crest is no longer connected to the values of the school and that as such it has been decided to remove it from the school, citing the need for progress and the school’s mission to uphold justice.

The request has since been sent to Harvard Corporation, who will make the final decision, reports Chaz Danner for New York Magazine.

The crest in question has been in use at the school since 1936, featuring three sheaves of wheat from the coat-of-arms of the Royall family.  While the family was responsible for funding the first law professorship at the school, patriarch Isaac Royall Sr. built his fortune as a slave trader and slaveholding plantation owner on the island of Antigua.  Royall also was co-owner of a slave ship and aided in the brutal suppression of a slave revolt.

The emblem decision directly follows a decision by Harvard University to stop including the word “master” in its faculty titles as the school tries to remove itself from any slave-holding references.  The removal of the crest could bring on further changes, as the Harvard Crimson writes, “reconsidering the seal raises a question of precedent, as some buildings on campus, such as Mather House, bear the name of former slave owners.”

However, University President Drew G. Faust said she would not agree to further title changes, saying doing so would negate historical legacies.

A recent straw poll at Harvard found slightly more than 54% of law school students were in support of changing the emblem.  Meanwhile, 30% said they would like to see the emblem remain despite knowing the history behind it.

Similar issues have been raised at other prestigious universities including Princeton, Yale, Amherst, and Oxford, as students and faculty make efforts to distance the schools from historical figures connected to ideologies or actions they consider to be racist.