FSU law school faculty: 'Reflect our shared values' and rename building | Opinion
As members of the faculty and administration at the Florida State University College of Law, we write to call on the Florida House of Representatives to complete the legislative work that will allow us to rename the law school building.
As you are aware, the Florida Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill in 2019 that would have allowed B.K. Roberts’ name to be removed from the law school building, but the House did not take up the legislation. In 2020, a Senate committee again approved a measure to allow the renaming of the law school, but Florida lawmakers did not complete the process. It is time to act decisively.
It is shameful that our main building continues to bear the name of B.K. Roberts. Roberts persistently resisted the racial integration of Florida’s public law schools, and it is deeply painful and offensive that most of our faculty offices and classrooms are in a building that carries his name.
As a Florida Supreme Court justice, Roberts openly defied the U.S. Supreme Court in his quest to maintain segregation. The battle for racial integration was waged during a gruesome time in our country’s history. Roberts was vehemently and unmistakably on the wrong side of that battle. The time has long since come to stop celebrating segregationists.
The building was not named for Roberts because he favored segregation. The naming of the building was meant to honor his role in chairing a committee that helped to found the College of Law.
But the fact that Roberts helped to achieve a valuable goal does not, by itself, warrant memorializing him in stone. Many important accomplishments are not acknowledged or honored in such public and enduring ways. Indeed, throughout our country’s history, the significant accomplishments of people of color have been overlooked.
The law school community was never part of naming the building for Roberts, and a strong contingent opposed it when the decision was announced. The law naming the building slid through the Legislature on the back of unrelated legislation without discussion or debate.
The dean of the College of Law at the time declined to support naming the building for Roberts, and a large group of students protested with picket signs on the day of the naming ceremony. We are asking now to be allowed to correct a longstanding error that was imposed upon us and that members of our community have protested from the start.
It is our hope that when the law school’s main building can be renamed, its name will reflect our shared values of justice, equality, respect, compassion and advocacy. As faculty and administrators, it is our moral responsibility to advocate for our students and our community. In these difficult times, we hope that this is just the first of many steps we take to do better by them.
Elizabeth Farrell Clifford
Elissa Philip Gentry
Dean Erin O’Hara O’Connor
Darby Kerrigan Scott
Kelli Alces Williams
Note: This letter was sent to Florida House Speaker José Oliva and Speaker-Designate Chris Sprowls and also submitted to the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida.
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