First it was ridicule, now it's outrage.
George Mason University's decision to rename its law school for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is facing an internal backlash, with dozens of professors and staff members signing a petition that warns the move would be harmful to the school and insulting to many students and employees.
The open letter, written by cultural studies professor Craig Willse, says "the values that Scalia affirmed from the bench do not reflect the values of our campus community." It also criticizes the school for agreeing to the name change at the request of an anonymous $30 million donor without input from people who study or work there.
The signatories span a variety of departments at the Fairfax, Virginia-based university, but as of mid-afternoon Thursday none represented the law school.
The proposed new name, The Antonin Scalia Law School, is a revision of the original suggestion, The Antonin Scalia School of Law, which was widely mocked for its awkward acronym (ASSLaw).
The new name must be approved by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia before it becomes official.
Willse said in an interview that the online petition was an "organizing tool" to begin what he hopes will be a larger effort to block the name change.
"It’s a little bit of an open question what we do next," he said.
Law School Dean Henry Butler and associate law professor Neomi Rao defended the choice in an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Tuesday. They argued that Scalia championed the law over partisan jurisprudence.
"In a legal culture rife with legal realism — the belief that the law is what the judge ate for breakfast — Justice Scalia restored the study of law as law," they wrote. "It is a fitting honor that his name will now grace the George Mason School of Law, memorializing the Justice’s legacy at an institution committed to rigorous legal inquiry."
Scalia, an outspoken and highly influential conservative who argued for a strict interpretations of the Constitution, spoke in public against homosexuality and argued that gay marriage did not deserve legal protections. He opposed and affirmative action in hiring and school admissions, and argued against abortion rights. His opinions, praised by the right, drew virulent criticism on the left.
He died in February, leaving the Supreme Court with a 4-4 ideological split and sparking a vow from Republicans to block President Obama's nominee.
Willse said that Scalia's comments on affirmative action were particularly troublesome. In December, during arguments on a case about race-based admissions, Scalia suggested black college students might perform better in a "slower-track school."
"I don’t understand how we as an institution of public education could honor someone who would say those things," Willse said.