Committee exploring whether Harvard Law School shield should be changed

2-color shieldHarvard Law School Dean Martha Minow has announced the creation of a committee to research if the school should continue to use its current shield.

The shield is the coat of arms of the family of Isaac Royall, whose bequest endowed the first professorship of law at Harvard. Royall was the son of an Antiguan slaveholder. In 1936, the Harvard Corporation and Radcliffe Trustees adopted seals for 27 Harvard academic units, naming the Royall crest, with its three sheaths of wheat, as the Law School shield.

Because of its ties to slave labor, the shield has come under fire. In October, a group of law school students formed an organization called “Royall Must Fall” to demand that the law school discontinue using the Royall family crest as its symbol. In November, the committee wrote an open letter to Dean Minow, demanding the end of the use of the shield at HLS.

“As Harvard Law School prepares to observe its bicentennial in 2017, it is important that we mark not only our accomplishments but also the difficult aspects of our history,” said Minow. “We have been forthright in confronting and acknowledging the legacy of Isaac Royall, a slaveholder who established the first professorship in law at Harvard. Each year, as a new class arrives, I urge students to contemplate this legacy and to use the injustice of Royall’s wealth as an example of the kind of injustice that they will have the power and the tools to change as law students and lawyers. Symbols are important. They become even more important when people care about them and focus on them. I have asked distinguished historians of our faculty to lead a process for soliciting the views and perspectives of all within our community—students, alumni, faculty, and staff —on whether the Royall crest should be discarded from our shield. Through that process, we will gain a better sense of what course of action should be recommended and pursued, and we will discuss and understand important aspects of our history and what defines us today and tomorrow as a community dedicated to justice, diversity, equality, and inclusion. We will also have an opportunity to do what all lawyers must do if they are to be effective, which is to truly listen to the perspectives and experiences related by others.”

Bruce Mann, Carl F. Schipper, Jr. Professor of Law, will chair the committee of faculty, students, and an alumnus. A legal historian, Mann will be joined on the committee by legal historians Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Annette Gordon-Reed and Sam Moyn, as well as Janet Halley, who holds the Royall Professorship of Law at HLS. She has written about the legacy of the Royall family. Alumnus Jim Bowers ’70, senior counsel at Day Pitney and a member of the Senior Advisory Council of the Harvard Law School Association, will also serve on the committee, as will Robert Katz, former general counsel of Goldman Sachs. The HLS student government will appoint three representatives to the committee, as well. Visiting Professor Dan Coquillette, coauthor of “On the Battlefield of Merit”, a history of Harvard Law School, will consult to the committee.

The committee is seeking comment from members of the law school community. It has created an email address to receive remarks, royall@law.harvard.edu, and it will be holding community discussions.