The law school at George Mason University (Photo courtesy of George Mason University)

It’s safe to say a lot of people, including the faculty senate at George Mason University and some Democratic legislators in Virginia, are not happy with the decision to rename the public university’s law school in honor of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: They have signed petitions, objected to the terms of the deal, and asked for a delay in the decision.

But on Thursday, a key group spoke out strongly in favor of the idea: The faculty of the law school itself, who passed a unanimous (but for one abstention) resolution supporting the name change and the gifts that led to it.

Earlier this spring, university officials announced $30 million in gifts to the law school. That included $10 million from the Charles Koch Foundation, which has given generously to many universities and has also raised concerns for some people because the family has donated to conservative political causes and candidates and they wondered whether the gift came with strings attached. Another donor, who asked to remain anonymous, gave $20 million and asked that the law school be renamed for Scalia.

Scalia was such an icon in his lifetime, with opinions that infuriated liberals and inspired conservatives, that his legacy has been fiercely, and divisively, debated since his sudden death.

Some asked an overarching question about academic freedom: What is the impact of private donors on academia?

The law school faculty responded directly. They noted that confidentiality around major donors is routine. They dismissed concerns about the terms of the gift. They acknowledged not all agree with Scalia’s opinions, but strongly supported the change. “Naming the Law School after Justice Scalia is a fitting tribute to his memory. Individual members of the Law School faculty hold different views about Justice Scalia’s jurisprudence, but all recognize that he was among the most consequential figures in the history of the Supreme Court.”

They condemned the faculty senate’s suggestion that centers affiliated with the law school should be independently evaluated, as an infringement on their academic freedom.

They objected to the faculty senate resolution, saying, “The unprecedented nature of the Faculty Senate’s baseless criticisms of the gifts at issue suggests
ideological bias.”

They apologized to the donors and the Scalia family.

The name change has been approved by the board of visitors — and ardently defended by the university’s president — and will be considered for final approval next week by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

Read the full resolution here: