Summary: On March 31, George Mason University announced that it was changing the name of its law school, which has rapidly risen from marginal status into respectability in the last few years, to the Antonin Scalia School of Law. The reason: a 30 million dollar contribution from the Charles Koch Foundation, a.k.a. the Koch Brothers and an anonymous donor, who made the name change a condition of his or her generosity. This occurring while the various controversies over Scalia’s legacy and the Supreme Court’s deadlock since his passing were still raging guaranteed indignation from many quarters, including many students and graduates of the law school. The internet and social media communities, meanwhile, having the emotional maturity of fifth graders, concentrated its efforts at snickering over the new school’s acronym, which could be ASSoL, and the Twitter handle, #ASSLAW.
The resulting embarrassment led the school’s Dean to announce that the name of the school was being altered to “Antonin Scalia Law School.”
1. Ethics Alarms had a recent post expressing dismay at the willingness of baseball teams to sell the identity of their ballparks to corporations. This is much worse. George Mason is perhaps the most unjustly forgotten of all the Founders, as he was largely responsible for there being a Bill of Rights in our Constitution The fact that George Mason University and its law school has been slowly rising in prestige and visibility had helped to remedy the unjust obscurity of a historical figure to whom every citizen and the world owes a debt of thanks. George Mason’s honor, however, was considered expendable once the school’s leaders knew the price that using the law school for ideological propaganda could bring at a time of sharp partisan division.
2. Rich people have a right to use their money to make others do things that they shouldn’t or normally wouldn’t want to. The issue is whether there are ethical limits to the kinds of actions and conduct money should be used to buy. Rich families have used their assets to defeat true love, paying unsuitable suitors to leave without explanation. Desperate celebrities have accepted checks to debase themselves on reality shows. Judas was paid to betray Jesus Christ. Where does using one’s millions to induce a university to betray its duties to alumni and students, as well as other donors and the memory of a crucial American patriot, fall on the spectrum?
3. Was George Mason University obligated to accept 30,000,000 dollars under these conditions? Should money supersede all other considerations for an educational institution? No, and no. Allowing the school to be turned into a billboard for conservative jurisprudence did more than simply alter the name. It altered the perception of the law school, the meaning of its degrees, its public image and its ability to attract a wide range of students from diverse backgrounds. If the school’s leadership didn’t comprehend that, it was a stunning example of institutional incompetence and irresponsible decision-making.
4. If the school’s leadership did comprehend the gravamen of the name change and allowing partisan tycoons to bend the school’s management to their will, then the decision was even less defensible. There was an absolute obligation to consult with the stakeholders in this trade-off: students, alumni, and donors. Failing that obligation constituted a stunning breach of trust.
5. Is it too much to expect a university to say something like this?
“I’m sorry, but we must reject your generous offer under these conditions. This is a law school, not a stadium scoreboard, and we must stand for integrity and legal values. George Mason is a major figure in the development of both those values and the law itself, and his name has importance to our mission as well as how we are perceived. No figure whose philosophy and legal opinions are considered divisive and controversial now and for the foreseeable future is an appropriate name to make the identity of this school, for that would falsely represent the school as having an ideological mission and bias, which it does not, and create a false impression among colleagues, employers and clients that graduates of this school necessarily share Justice Scalia’s jurisprudence. Some thinks cannot be and must not be for sale, and our integrity, independence, and appearance of independence are among them.”
I suppose it is.
6. Following the well-publicized faculty meltdown over honoring Justice Scalia at a neighboring law school, and as the battle over his replacement still raged in the U.S. Capitol about 45 minutes away in light traffic, the announcement from George Mason regarding the new name sparked instant incredulity. Making the announcement on March 31st demonstrated near total estrangement from reality. I thought it was an April Fool’s joke; so did many others. This was one of those mind-numbing decisions where one wonders: Is it possible that nobody was paying attention?
This kind of incompetence naturally follows when decision-making is isolated and takes place in a bureaucracy where consensus is valued over wisdom.
7. The University is now being ridiculed because it didn’t immediately recognize the humorous acronym created by the original name. How embarrassing: George Mason’s leaders don’t think like children! The gleeful hi-jinx resulting from the “ASSoL” nickname was in part fed by generational contempt for Scalia, and did not warrant more than a day’s worth of guffaws. Should someone in the re-naming process have seen it? Maybe, but this is hindsight bias, and nothing else. I didn’t see it, and I’m usually good at finding such things. Yes, this was the most unfortunate array of letters since Nixon’s infamous “Committee To Re-Elect The President” was shortened to CREEP. It’s still not as big a deal as the juveniles on the web and social media are making it out to be.
8. Changing the new name quickly was the first competent thing George Mason did. This, however, prompted taunting by the likes of Ellie Mystal at legal gossip site Above the Law:
No… that’s not how the internet works at all. ASSoL deans at George Mason are about to learn a very practical lesson about the Streisand Effect. Attempting to remove or hide something on the internet just draws more attention to the thing that you are trying to remove or hide.
The school’s name is ASSLaw now, and everything that they do to change it will just reinforce the initial acronym. Google is already learning that when you type “George Mason’s law school,” you mean “ASSLaw.”…Google sees all of that. It won’t ever be able to distinguish Antonin Scalia School of Law and Antonin Scalia Law School, because there is no difference. The name ASSLaw will also stick because it is a PERFECT way to describe a law school that just renamed itself after a famously acerbic Supreme Court justice who courted a ton of controversy. George Mason wanted to associate itself with a conservative law mascot, and now they’re getting everything that comes with it. That includes a lot of liberal media types who think “What an ASSoL” every time Scalia’s name comes up anyway.
What egomaniacal, self-aggrandizing, distorted and obnoxious crowing! I know you rule in your tiny corner of the internet, Ellie, and get all excited about this stuff as you puff out your chest with your perceived power and importance, but the reality is that most people don’t care what vulgar jokes are made about the names of people and things, including their own names, and name-calling, as Donald Trump proves daily, is the lowest form of criticism.
Nobody’s trying to “hide” anything; the school properly noticed that the first version of the new name was going to be a target for juveniles and jerks, and acted responsibly by changing it quickly. Within a year or so, if not months, making ASSol jokes will look as stale as it is currently lame, and nobody but you and your fellow sophomores will double over in laughter when you see it or type it. Nobody with the maturity and intelligence to be a lawyer will care.
9. My second reference of Nixon in a post this morning reminds me that to this day, there are bitter people of retarded emotional maturity who still think it’s hilarious to emphasize that his first name was “Dick.” Dick, get it? Anyone who continues to think that using a discarded acronym is a clever way of attacking the judicial philosophy of Justice Scalia is displaying the kind of acumen vacuum that the late Justice was famous for ridiculing in oral argument.