Ad hoc committee advises Cleveland-Marshall law school to drop ‘Marshall’ from its name


The ad hoc committee was composed of students, faculty, alumni and staff.

Besides their own research, the committee members also considered a survey of students and alumni that asked their opinions about the college’s name.

According to that survey, which was sent to 4,500 people and had a 30% response rate, 60% of alumni did not want to change the name.

However, a plurality of all other people, including students, faculty, staff and members of the legal community, did.

Per the committee report, one member summarized these findings like this: “As a committee we can understand that for the alumni the ‘CM Law’ name has symbolic and substantive value as Marshall’s name is on the degrees awarded to them and has recognition as a great law school. The fact that a large plurality of present students , faculty, and community stakeholders support the need to change the name, however, suggests to us that holding on to Marshall’s name headlining CSU’s law school is both offensive, as suggested by the extensive online feedback received from the African American community, and not in keeping with guiding principles and contemporary values ​​that hold equality and inclusivity as preeminent values ​​society and CSU would want to cherish. The change of name may seem symbolic to some, but to the African American community and society at large, it would be a compelling assertion of the values ​​of equality, diversity, and inclusiveness at Cleveland State University.”

On the other side of the debate, John Marshall supporters have argued that his legacy as a jurist should overshadow his more problematic aspects.

In a December 2021 Law School Name Framing Document, Cleveland-Marshall professors David Forte and Stephen Lazarus wrote a passage titled “Why We Should Keep Our Name.”

Their position was as summarized like this: “The independence of the Court that Marshall brought about and the institution of judicial review that he preserved gave later Supreme Courts the power to overturn segregation and affirm equal rights for African Americans. Though he personally owned many slaves, an action that cannot be defended, John Marshall’s life led to freedom and liberty under our laws for millions of our citizens. Especially for those in Cleveland who achieved so much through an institution bearing his name, John Marshall should remain an honored name among us. Moreover, in our quest to bring justice to issues of racial equality, it would be ironic to remove the name of a man who provided the means today for achieving that racial justice. We should not distract ourselves from this quest by removing the Marshall brand, which has meant so much to the advancement of minorities as well as many from our ethnic communities.”

Besides highlighting his problematic past, the ad hoc committee also notes that the Cleveland-Marshall name was never chosen in a particularly deliberate or thoughtful way.

Marshall himself doesn’t even have any meaningful affiliations or connections to CSU, Cleveland or the regional legal community.

Cleveland-Marshall got its name following the merger of the John Marshall School of Law and Cleveland Law School in 1946. The former was named as such simply because of Marshall’s notoriety at the time of its founding in 1916.

Cleveland-Marshall then joined CSU in 1969. And the name has never been touched since.

It has been a source for confusion for some people, as Fisher pointed out. Many people over the decades, he said, have assumed the “Marshall” in the school’s name has been in honor of Thurgood Marshall, who served as the Supreme Court’s first Black justice.

Fisher said that, regardless of what action the board ultimately takes, this situation will be used as a teachable moment in the school to educate students and the legal community about the “complex” history of John Marshall “for decades to come.” How that educational piece will be managed will be determined in the future.

You can read more about the background of how this controversy kicked up in this Crain’s story.

You can also find the full ad hoc review and advisory committee report on the CSU website here.

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