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Cleveland State University changing name of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, named for former chief justice who owned slaves

"His ownership of slaves and his beliefs and actions relating to slavery are contrary to the values of our University and a disservice to our community."

CLEVELAND — Cleveland State University has announced that it has removed the name Cleveland-Marshall from its College of Law. Going forward, the college will be known as the CSU College of Law.

The decision came after a vote of the Cleveland State University Board of Trustees on Thursday. 

The College of Law had been named in part after former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, who owned slaves.

"While Chief Justice John Marshall’s contributions to American jurisprudence are significant and will continue to be an important part of our curriculum, his ownership of slaves and his beliefs and actions relating to slavery are contrary to the values of our University and a disservice to our community," Cleveland State University President Dr. Laura Bloomberg wrote in a letter to the campus community.

As the nation was swept up in the calls for racial justice amid the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, a petition calling for the removal of Marshall's name was sent to both the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at CSU, as well as at the John Marshall Law School at the University of Illinois Chicago.

Cleveland-Marshall College of Law responded by forming a committee of faculty, staff, students, and alumni to begin the process of reviewing whether the name 'Marshall' should be removed. That committee, chaired by Lee Fisher, the Dean of the College of Law, forwarded a comprehensive report on the matter to an ad hoc committee which unanimously recommended the removal of Marshall. Bloomberg then forwarded the committee's recommendation and her endorsement of it to the Board of Trustees.

“This is a significant decision and not one the Board took lightly,” said Cleveland State Board Chair David Reynolds. “While we understand the connection many of our alumni and others have to the Marshall name, the ad hoc committee and president made a compelling case. Removing the name is in the best interest of today’s CSU.”

In January, a resolution was introduced by Cleveland City Council, calling for the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law to change its name. The resolution, introduced by Councilman Kevin Conwell, stated that historians believe Marshall owned hundreds of slaves on his several properties in various states. "Though Marshall opposed the slave trade, he nevertheless owned slaves most of his life," the resolution added.

"I understand that this has been an emotional issue for many members of our community. I hope we can all move forward in agreement that the true value and strength of our College of Law lies not in a name, but in the quality of education we offer and the talents and diversity of our students, faculty, staff and alumni," Bloomberg closed in her letter. 

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