It’s Time for a Name Change at UC Hastings

June 14, 2023

The names we choose for our schools, our cities, and even our streets are consequential. Those we honor and, in some fashion, immortalize by affixing their names to our institutions should make us proud. When our children ask why their school bears a certain name – we should be able to describe why that person is worthy of such recognition.

The University of California Hastings College of the Law was founded in 1878 by Serranus Clinton Hastings. Today, the law school has an extensive network of proud alumni that include the largest number of California’s sitting judges, prominent lawyers, elected officials, and community and business leaders. Unfortunately, the school’s namesake was not (and is not) worthy of his name adorning California’s first law school.

In September of 2020, the “Hastings Legacy Review Committee” delivered a report to the college’s Board of Directors that detailed findings on Serranus Hastings’ involvement in a series of massacres of Native Americans. The report found that Serranus Hastings funded these massacres in and around Mendocino County during the 1850s. Shamefully, the California State Legislature voted to compensate Serranus Hastings for expenses that were incurred during these horrific massacres. The blood-stained history of the college’s founder cannot, and should not, be erased from memory. However, a school of law must not bear the name of an individual who is responsible for flagrantly disobeying those laws through the criminal mass-murder of Native Californians.

In an effort to shift the school’s relationship with the legacy of its founder, the college, the Round Valley Indian Tribes and representatives of the Yuki people (whose ancestors were murdered), and various California lawmakers have worked in collaboration to strike the “Hastings” name from the college of law. In addition to striking the name, it is appropriate that California provide some measure of recognition and restorative justice for the tribal members whose ancestors were slaughtered with the state’s complicity.

In this pursuit, the Law School’s Board voted unanimously to strike the name Hastings from the school. Henceforth, the law school would be known as “The University of California College of the Law, San Francisco.”

The Board also voted to work with Yuki descendants and members of the Round Valley Indian Tribes to establish a nonprofit to provide pro bono legal assistance; develop scholarship assistance for admitted law students who are members of the Round Valley Indian Tribes; and, dedicate a permanent public memorial to the Yuki people on the school’s campus.

During the college’s founding process, Serranus Hastings had the legislature include a provision within California’s Education Code requiring that the law school forever be known as the “Hastings” College of the Law. As a result, changing the college’s name requires legislation. This statutory change is reflected in AB 1936 (Ramos). (AB 1936 is authored by Assemblymember James Ramos – the legislature’s only Native American member --and co-authored by Hastings alumni Senators Tom Umberg and Bob Hertzberg -- along with San Francisco’s Senator Scott Weiner.) It must be voted upon by the State Senate prior to the Legislature’s August 31 adjournment.

Should AB 1936 pass and be signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, it will remove the taint of association with Serranus Hastings but leave in place its proud relationship to the University of California and San Francisco. In the almost 150 years since its founding, the college of law has been associated with the University of California. And like the other UC campuses it will now carry the name of its geographic location. Also since its founding, the law school and the City of San Francisco have experienced a symbiotic relationship; each growing with the changing economy to be centers of innovation and excellence.

I am a proud Hastings alumnus. The enactment of AB 1936 strengthens that pride in a school that appropriately renounces the name of its founder and becomes – The University of California College of the Law, San Francisco.