George Mason University is free to rename its law school for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia after a state council decided Tuesday it had no oversight role in the matter.
The school announced plans to rename the school for Scalia in March. The new name is connected to a $10 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation and a $20 million matching grant from an anonymous donor. The anonymous contribution is contingent on renaming the school.
The Charles Koch Foundation is affiliated with the billionaire industrialist who has a long history of supporting conservative and libertarian causes. It donates to universities across the country but George Mason, which has developed a reputation as a conservative powerhouse in law and economics, receives more money from the foundation by far than any other school in the country.
Opponents who objected to Scalia's conservative legacy had wanted the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) to reject the name change. The council had been scheduled to vote on the matter Tuesday at a meeting in Lexington. But after receiving advice from the state attorney general's office, the council instead adopted a resolution stating the name change can go forward without council approval.
David Rehr, the law school's senior associate dean, said the name change will be official on July 1. It will be called the Antonin Scalia Law School. It was initially going to be the Antonin Scalia School of Law, but the name was subjected to online mockery because it produced a vulgar acronym.
Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, who opposed the name change and launched a petition that received more than 1,300 signatures, said he believes the school's reputation will be harmed. He said a law school that is now prized by northern Virginians for providing a low-cost, high-quality, convenient education will now be a national beacon for students seeking to be trained in Scalia's legal style.
"With this rebranding of the law school, it says that we are here for fans of Antonin Scalia and his interpretation of the law," Simon said.
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Rehr said he believes the opposition was a knee-jerk reaction from political liberals opposed to Scalia's ideology. In the long run, Rehr said, he believes Scalia will be remembered as a brilliant jurist and that having his name associated with the law school will only enhance its reputation.
"We're betting on the long term, and we think we'll be right," he said.