Dear Chancellor Faigman,
This letter responds to the June alumni newsletter inviting comments about the school’s name change. My comments are primarily directed to issue number 1, whether the name should be changed at all. I am opposed to it.
Some background on me, and why I care about this: I recently celebrated my 80th birthday, and therefore am probably one of the older folks you will hear from. I graduated from Hastings in 1967, benefiting from the wisdom of the “65 Club” of renowned law professors forced into retirement from other institutions because of their age. For me they were professors Prosser, Powell, Perkins, and others.
I am grateful to Hastings for giving me a chance, and for opening doors of opportunity. I recall the dean’s handwritten message on my acceptance letter that said something like, “Frankly, Mr. Kaster, we are not impressed by your college marks; and we expect you will devote your every waking hour to the study of law when you are here at Hastings.” Well, somehow I survived Hastings, and have enjoyed a successful life, for which I can thank the school. With my JD degree, I served in the US Air Force JAG during the Vietnam era, I practiced law for eighteen years, and I served on the California Superior Court for twenty years. I retired in 2008. Since retirement I became interested in writing and have written two novels (mindless thrillers) and scores of essays and columns for my local newspaper. Thank you, Hastings.
The pride I have in my law school will be diminished immeasurably if the name is changed. When people ask me where I went to law school, and I answer, “Hastings,” it invariably garners a response of genuine respect. Will that continue? I think not.
In my mind, the current woke hysteria of removing statues of important historical figures and changing names of venerable institutions is connected to the frightening claims I hear more and more that the US Constitution also needs to be gone; that it is irrelevant, and flawed because the drafters of the document owned slaves and didn’t view the world the same way we do now.
It’s true that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison owned slaves. They were flawed, although not considered so in the time and culture in which they lived. Serranus Clinton Hastings apparently participated in the California genocide, which involved the killing of indigenous peoples by the US government and private citizens. Through the lens of history, we can righteously look back at those activities with horror. But likewise, we can look back at all of western civilization through the same lens with similar horror.
But the stature of Hastings College of Law and the respect for the school’s name don’t exist because of Serranus Clinton Hastings, or the good or bad things he may have done in the nineteenth century. They come from the solid reputation the institution has achieved and the high standards it has maintained since its founding in 1878. The school’s name is an important element of its reputation. I can’t help imagining how Dean Prosser would react today to the proposed name change. I guess we can’t ask him, but after more than fifty-five years his presence and demeanor are still vividly fixed in my mind, and I can make a pretty good guess.
As to issue number 2, what name should be given to the school if the name is changed, I honestly don’t care. In deference to “the artist formerly known as Prince,” may he rest in peace, to me it will be “the law school formerly known as Hastings.”
The problem with tearing down statues, changing names of institutions, and heaven forbid, dismantling the US Constitution, is what comes next? Venezuela comes to mind.
I’m looking back on fifty-five years of pride in being associated with Hastings College of Law. I fear that fifty-five years from now people will look at UC _____ (insert new name here) as the formerly great institution that surrendered its name to the woke public sentiment du jour.