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FROM:

ngel Cabrera

TO:

Members of the Faculty Senate

RE:

Law School Naming Gift Resolution

DATE:

April 29, 2016

Dear Colleague,
This past Wednesday I was asked by the Faculty Senate to share my thoughts on the
recent naming gift to the law school and to respond to a number of specific concerns
included in a draft resolution that was later adopted. The various concerns covered
three topics: the appropriateness of naming a school after a Supreme Court Justice
whose opinions some consider objectionable and polarizing, the risk of undue influence
by a donor in the academic affairs of the university, and the economic implications of
the gift for the university.
Let me offer some thoughts on each of these subjects.
In a large and proudly diverse university like ours, it is not surprising that the opinions
of an influential individual like the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would
generate a wide variety of reactions. I acknowledge and respect the fact that some of
you find some of his opinions objectionable and even personally offensive.
Agreement with his views is, however, not the reason why we are renaming the law
school for Justice Scalia. We are not endorsing his opinions on any specific issue. We
are recognizing a man who served our country at the highest level of government for 30
years and who many experts of diverse ideological persuasionsfrom faculty
colleagues in our law school, to his peers on the Supreme Court, to the president of the
United Statesconsider to have been a great jurist who had a profound impact in the
legal field.

Earlier this year we were the target of intense criticism for opinions expressed by some
of our faculty in the area of climate change prevention. Some colleagues at the time
suggested that I publicly condemn those views and distance the university from them.
My position then was clear and has not changed: we must ensure that George Mason
University remains an example of diversity of thought, a place where multiple
perspectives can be dissected, confronted, and debated for the benefit and progress of
society at large. Rejecting a major naming gift in honor of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice
on the basis that some of us disagree with some of his opinions would be inconsistent
with our values of diversity and freedom of thought.
As per the perception that one donor may unduly influence the academic life of this
university, let me offer some context. Indeed, with the continuous decline in public
funding, philanthropy plays an increasingly important role for public universities, as it
has always been for private ones. However, compared to our research university peers,
philanthropy is still a very small percentage of our budget. In fiscal year 2017, all forms
of philanthropy will account for almost 5 percent of our $920 million budget. Four years
ago when I arrived at Mason, philanthropy provided 3 percent of our $730 million
budget.
In a front-page story on Friday, April 29, the New York Times valued the gifts from one
donor, the Charles Koch Foundation, to Mason over the last decade at $50 million. To
put things in perspective, that would amount to about 0.6 percent of our average annual
budget over this period. The suggestion that gifts of this magnitude can shape the
ideology of the largest public research university in Virginia is farfetched to say the
least.
The New York Times credits Charles Koch with having helped transform a once sleepy
commuter school [] into a leading producer of free-market scholarship. Sleepy is not
the first word that comes to mind to describe an economics department that delivered
one Nobel Prize winner in 1986 and a second one in 2002. It seems fairer to claim that it
was our academic strength in economics that attracted the support of individual donors
and foundations. I can only hope that our strengths in other areasfrom public policy
to climate change and conservation, digital humanities, psychology, cybersecurity or

molecular biology to mention a fewwill one day attract a similar level of private
support.
I am proud that we are making great progress in increasing philanthropic support to
the university and I am grateful to our donors for believing in usincluding the
Charles Koch Foundation, one of our most consistent and generous donors. But we are
still far from the levels of many of our peer institutions in terms of the weight of
philanthropy in our finances. Our problem is not that we receive too many gifts, but
that we dont receive enough. I will continue to work hard to raise more money to
support our faculty and students.
I take it as one of my most important responsibilities to protect the integrity of our
academic enterprise. Our donors understand that, no matter how generous they may
be, they will have no authority whatsoever in our faculty selection and promotion
processes, our student admissions, or our curricular choices. If thats not acceptable to
them, we simply decline the gifts.
Finally, let me clarify the structure of the $30 million gift to the law school. The entire
gift will fund scholarships. The tuition revenue generated by those scholarships will
provide additional resources to the school to hire new faculty, create new centers, and
strengthen existing programs. The new faculty positions will be funded with those
revenues. In fact, this is our plan as presented to the donors, not the other way around.
The new resources will help us raise the stature of the school and consolidate its
position among the leading law schools in the country. Our expectation is that the
boost of resources will have lasting effects in driving future student demand beyond the
duration of the gift.
I want to emphasize that our commitment to diversity and inclusion will not waver. On
the contrary, the new gift offers significant resources to further pursue our goals. The
Board of Visitors resolution approving of the name requires that we create a new
scholarship program that will help attract diverse students to the law school. The Board
also requested the creation of a new committee, including two board members, to
monitor the improvements of student and faculty diversity in the law school. There is a

lot more we can do for diversity and inclusion with the scholarships and the new
faculty positions than without them.
I extend my congratulations to Dean Henry Butler for raising the largest gift in
university history and to his faculty for what I expect to be a transformative milestone
in the already remarkable trajectory of a leading law school.
These are exciting times for our university. Very few institutions have achieved what
we have in as short a time: a 34,000 student body, a position among the top research
universities in the nation, a culture of innovation and inclusion, and an extraordinary
record of student success. With your work and the support of our community, we will
continue to be an example of what a public university is about.
I thank you for everything you do to support our university.
Respectfully,
--ngel Cabrera