McLEAN, Va. (AP) — George Mason University is tweaking its plan to rename its law school the Antonin Scalia School of Law to avoid an unfortunate acronym, but a group of state legislators wants to scrap the idea entirely.
Eleven Democratic lawmakers sent a letter Tuesday to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, also known as SCHEV, asking it to reject the university's renaming plan out of concern over whether Scalia is worthy of the honor. Mason, Virginia's largest public university, has said it needs the council's approval for the new name.
Scalia "was also one of the most controversial justices in modern history," the lawmakers wrote. "Indeed, we have received pleas from alumni who are deeply concerned that this decision will undermine their ability to find future employment or undermine their professional reputation."
The university said last week that it planned to rename its law school the Antonin Scalia School of Law. The new name honoring the late Supreme Court justice and conservative icon was suggested by an anonymous donor, who is giving the school $20 million. An additional $10 million is being contributed by the Charles Koch Foundation, which has given tens of millions of dollars over the years to Mason. Charles Koch is CEO of Koch Industries and along with his younger brother David is known for his support of conservative and libertarian causes.
On Tuesday, the proposed name was changed to the Antonin Scalia Law School after the previous acronym was mocked on social media.
In a letter Tuesday to students and alumni, law school dean Henry Butler said the terms of the gift from the anonymous donor allow flexibility in the naming and that Antonin Scalia Law School was a logical substitute.
"We just want to be sure we're being respectful to Justice Scalia, to the school and our students" in constructing the name, law school senior associate dean David Rehr said Wednesday.
Butler's letter said the school is also looking into whether it can accommodate requests from students who don't want Scalia's name to appear on their diplomas.
Rehr said he was not sure whether naming the school for Scalia is an explicit condition of the $20 million gift, or merely a preference. He referred that question to university administration officials. University representatives didn't return calls and emails Wednesday.
At SCHEV, spokesman Greg Weatherford said the council received Mason's application Wednesday, and that staff would review it and make recommendations in the coming weeks.
Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, one of the letter's authors, said he has received more than 1,000 signatures to an online petition he started opposing the name change.
"This is a big, in-your-face kind of a move," Simon said of the renaming proposal, which highlights Mason's growth in recent years as a conservative powerhouse in law and economics, fueled partly by the Koch Foundation money. He said he's concerned about using $30 million to attract students "and trying to shape their young minds and train them in the Scalia way of thinking. That's troubling to me."
Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, said he doesn't have a problem with the Kochs or anyone else donating to the school but said renaming the entire school for Scalia is "a step too far."
Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, questioned the secrecy and the lack of input from alumni, students and the public.
"To simply steamroll people's collective input over $20 million from an anonymous donor is outrageous," he said.
Butler, in his letter, said it's standard procedure to treat donations as confidential while the terms are being negotiated, which limited the opportunity for outside input.