Saturday, March 11, 2023
A Law School’s ‘Denaming’ Evokes Donor Family’s Ire
Following up on my previous post, After Richmond Law School Removed Slave-Owner Benefactor From Its Name, Family Demands Return Of His Donations ($3.6 Billion With 132 Years Of Interest): Inside Higher Ed, A Law School’s ‘Denaming’ Evokes Donor Family’s Ire:
When the University of Richmond’s Board of Trustees voted last fall to remove the name of alumnus and donor T. C. Williams from its law school, Williams’s descendants were irate. The board was following a new set of principles adopted earlier that year to ensure the namesakes of buildings, colleges and professorships lived up to the university’s values; the trustees decided that Williams, a wealthy tobacco farmer and slave owner, did not.
Richmond president Kevin Hallock broke the news to Robert Smith, Williams’s great-great-grandson and a graduate of the law school, over the phone. Smith responded with a letter denouncing the decision and accusing the university of hypocrisy and ingratitude.
“It is stunning to me that the University’s position is that there is just one acceptable monolithic narrative, and all those that don’t agree, even people born over 200 years ago, must be cancelled,” he wrote. “History and posterity will judge the University and the Board.” ...
Smith, who practices law in Richmond, did not rule out the possibility of legal action. ...
Frank Cialone, an attorney who has worked on a number of donor dispute cases in higher education, said he doubted that Smith and his relatives had grounds for a successful lawsuit. “First, there’s not even a contract or statute to go with the gift. Second, if there were a contract, it doesn’t seem to make anyone a third-party beneficiary. And third, the harm is pretty questionable to the people bringing the claim,” he said. “Outside of reversionary rights or some other provision in writing, the family is going to be out of luck.”
Outside of the legal system, Smith and his brother are leading a kind of digital public relations campaign aimed at “exposing the radical neo-Marxist indoctrination” Smith believes Richmond is engaged in—and, ultimately, at turning other alumni against their alma mater.
The website includes pictures of “woke signage” on campus and blog posts accusing Richmond professors of Satanism and antisemitism. It also links to multiple videos on Smith’s personal YouTube channel, where he posts video essays criticizing the university, from its “eunuch board” to the “communist propaganda” that its journalism department allegedly promotes.
Cialone said that cases involving alleged violations of donor intent have become increasingly mired in the larger political and cultural battles playing out at colleges and universities.
“It seems that more and more of these culture war issues are coming up as higher ed pays more attention to reckoning with its legacy,” he said. “That’s not good for the donors who may have legitimate issues, and that’s not good for universities. Taking that ideological bent is not what these cases should be about.”