My Alumni, Hastings College of the Law, changes name (Opinion)

Jim Porter, Columnist

When I attended Hastings College of the Law in the early 1970s, it was one of the top tier law schools in the country. And still is. I knew vaguely that the name came from SerranusHastings who was the first Chief Justice of California. We’ve learned more about SerranusHastings in recent years.

College Namesake Serranus Clinton Hastings

Hastings got his name from Serranus Hastings, a significant landowner in the mid-1800s. In 1878, Hastings sought to establish the first law school on the West Coast and proposed to fund such a school to the California Legislature. In response, the Legislature enacted a law creating Hastings College of the Law, part of California’s University system. Hastings funded the new college with a payment of $100,000 to the State Treasury. 

That’s the good news. Well, even greater news is that I graduated… with honors if I don’t say so myself. No one else would. Nor does anyone care.

Atrocities against Native Americans?

In 2017, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article alleging that Serranus Hastingshistorically was involved “in fulminating violence and atrocities against Native Americans living in what is present-day Mendocino County.” Not to be out done, in 2021, the New York Times published an article with the headline saying Hastings “masterminded the killings of hundreds of Native Americans.” The Hastings board shortly thereafter started to work with the California Legislature to enact legislation changing the name of the school. The proposed name was and is “College of the Law, San Francisco.”

Lawsuit Challenges Name Change

Plaintiffs-A College Alumni Association and Hasting’s descendants filed a lawsuitagainst the State and the College. The complaint, primarily based on constitutional grounds,requested that the College’s name remain “Hastings College of the Law” and that Hasting’s heirs and representatives should still be entitled to a seat on the board as was part of the original donation. A claim was also made for breach of contract in that the State and Serranus Hastings had reached a binding agreement to name the new school Hastings College of the Law.

Court ruling against Hastings

The trial court ruled in favor of the College and against the Hastings contingent. The First Appellate District Court of Appeal upheld that ruling on technical grounds that would only bore you readers more than you are already bored. 

Porters Take

As we all know it’s become relatively commonplace to strip names from alleged historical bad-doers in history. For example, “Boalt Hall” was removed from the University of California Berkeley’s law school due to Boalt’s advocacy and a speech he gave in 1877 that promoted slavery and the exclusion of Chinese Immigration. High schools across the country have removed the name Robert E. Lee from their buildings and schools, and statues have been removed in the South.

Some of these name changes seem appropriate in my humble opinion, but where does it end? Most of our founding fathers had slaves. Should the names Washington and Jefferson be removed from schools and buildings and books? Not in my opinion. There has to be some recognition of ‘the way things were’ and some respect for historical context. Is it fair to judge by today’s standards? But that’s not how everyone sees it.

I solicit your opinions. 

Jim Porter is a retired attorney from the Porter Simon law firm. Porter Simon has offices in Truckee, California and Reno, Nevada. These are Jim’s personal opinions. Jim may be reached at Like Porter Simon on Facebook.

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.