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UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law Considers Name Change After Call from Students To Address Racism

Michael Brindley / NHPR
UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law in Concord, previously known as Franklin Pierce Law Center, may be in for another name change.

The University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law is rethinking its name, in light of concerns raised by students about President Franklin Pierce's opposition to abolition.

In a press release late Friday, the law school announced that it has “begun to evaluate the law school’s name as part of the national conversation around historical and cultural symbols of the past.” It is also developing a task force to recommend ways to promote racial justice and inclusion.

New Hampshire's only law school was founded in 1973 as Franklin Pierce Law Center. In 2010, it merged with UNH and became known as the University of New Hampshire School of Law. And in 2019, it was rebranded University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law.

In a press release at the time, the law school said it wanted its alumni and students to benefit from the name recognition of the former Franklin Pierce Law Center, saying it "is considered the gold standard for intellectual property internationally."

But third-year student Sofia Hyatt says by using this name, the law school is honoring the legacy of someone who promoted slavery.

“In a moment in history where people are taking down confederate monuments and renaming schools, for us to stand and do nothing in this moment sends a strong message and a dangerous message that they don’t take things seriously,” she said.

Hyatt and around 20 other students began asking the school a week ago to drop Franklin Pierce from its name. Hyatt said as of Friday afternoon, she had not received a response.

“We’re moving as fast as we can while being as thoughtful as we can, and there’s quite a balance there,” said UNH Franklin Pierce Law School Dean Megan Carpenter.

Carpenter says the school will make a decision by August 1 about the name change, after gathering input from the school and community at large.

“In my opinion, if considering the naming of our school is an opportunity to make a change that could support people of color who are struggling for justice, then I believe with all my heart that we are lucky to have that opportunity,” she said.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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