Harvard to Retire HLS Shield

After several months of protests and the formation of a committee to study the Harvard Law School shield, Harvard Corporation has decided to retire the current shield representing the Law School. Harvard Corporation, which along with the Board of Overseers governs Harvard University, has requested that the Law School propose a new shield, “ideally in time for it to be introduced for the School’s bicentennial in 2017.”

The letter from Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust and Senior Fellow William Lee accepting the change and the email from Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow announcing the decision are after the jump.

Dear Dean Minow,

We write on behalf of the Corporation in response to your memorandum dated March 3, 2016, and the report of the Harvard Law School (HLS) committee that examined issues related to the HLS shield. With you, we are grateful to the committee you appointed for its careful work and thoughtful report. We especially appreciate the efforts by Professor Bruce Mann and the committee to solicit a wide range of views from across the entire HLS community, to weigh competing considerations, and to engage in the kind of reasoned argument and deliberation that is central to the Law School’s ideals. We are also grateful to Professor Annette Gordon-Reed for the cogent arguments she raises in her separate opinion, joined by Annie Rittgers. And, of course, we are grateful to everyone in the wider HLS community who took the time to join in this important discussion. Following a review of the committee report, the “different view” conveyed by Professor GordonReed and Ms. Rittgers, and your own memorandum, the Corporation agrees with your judgment and the recommendation of the committee that the Law School should have the opportunity to retire its existing shield and propose a new one. As you note, the current shield does not appear to be “an anchoring part” of Harvard Law School’s history. The committee points out that it was not adopted until 1936 — the occasion of the University’s 300th anniversary — when the Law School was already well into its second century; that the School’s use of the shield in the ensuing several decades was sporadic; and that the regular widespread use of the shield as a symbol of HLS “is of relatively recent vintage,” apparently dating to the mid-1990s. What is more, the report indicates that when the shield was adopted, it does not appear that any attention was given to the prospect that its imagery might evoke associations with slavery — a circumstance that, if recognized at the time, would quite likely have led to a different choice. Given these circumstances, and with the Law School’s own bicentennial approaching in 2017, we believe the School should have the opportunity to propose a new shield that, in the report’s words, “more closely represent[s] the values of the Law School” — one conducive to unifying the Law School community rather than dividing it. At the same time, we agree with the committee’s unanimous view “that modern institutions must acknowledge their past associations with slavery, not to assign guilt, but to understand the pervasiveness of the legacy of slavery and its continuing impact on the world in which we live.” While we accept the request to change the shield, we do so on the understanding that the School will actively explore other steps to recognize rather than to suppress the realities of its history, mindful of our shared obligation to honor the past not by seeking to erase it, but rather by bringing it to light and learning from it. Many thanks again to you, to the committee, and to the HLS community for your thoughtful and nuanced consideration of a complex issue. You should feel free to discontinue use of the shield as soon as you see fit, and we will look forward to receiving your eventual recommendation for a new shield, ideally in time for it to be introduced for the School’s bicentennial in 2017.


Drew Faust
William F. Lee
Senior Fellow

Letter from Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow to the HLS community:

Earlier today, President Faust and Senior Fellow William Lee informed me that the Harvard Corporation will retire the image and trademark of the shield for Harvard Law School adopted in 1936.  I share here with you their letter. With this action, the Corporation has accepted the recommendation of the committee chaired by Professor Bruce Mann — a recommendation I endorsed. On behalf of the HLS community, I thank President Faust and the members of the Corporation for their careful review and consideration of the matter.

I am profoundly grateful to Professor Mann and all members of the committee for the exceptionally thoughtful, inclusive, and responsive process they led. I also wish to acknowledge and thank the students who were the first to advocate retiring the shield because of its ties to slavery.  I appreciate deeply the contributions from so many members of our community — in total more than a thousand staff, students, faculty and alumni — who shared their differing views while united in their devotion to Harvard Law School.

As we move ahead, we will actively explore steps to “recognize rather than to suppress the realities of [the shield’s] history, mindful of our shared obligation to honor the past not by seeking to erase it, but rather by bringing it to light and learning from it,” as President Faust and Senior Fellow William Lee have wisely urged us to do.  To that end, the statement by Professor Annette Gordon-Reed, joined by Annie Rittgers, of the committee offers valuable guidance for moving forward.

Removing the shield from the many places it has been used by the School will take some time but the work has begun. The templates of our many webpages will be reconfigured to omit the shield by mid-April, and in the next few days, Dean McCrossan will send the community further information and guidance to help all departments make necessary changes.

The opportunity to consider a new symbol on the threshold of our Bicentennial allows us to engage in a productive and creative focus on expressing the School’s mission and values as we continue to strengthen its dedication to intellectual rigor and truth, to reasoned discourse and diverse views, and to a community marked by mutual respect and inclusiveness. Our constant efforts to marshal talent to serve justice and to advance human freedom and welfare are the best way to symbolize the ideals of Harvard Law School.

We cannot choose our history but we can choose that for which we stand. Above all, we rededicate ourselves to the hard work of eradicating not just symbols of injustice but injustice itself.

Martha Minow
Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor
Harvard Law School