“It was trademark malpractice to remove the name Franklin Pierce— which had become synonymous with excellence in IP— in the first place. It would be negligent to rush to judgment, caught up in a whirlwind, and remove it a second time.”
According to the Concord Monitor, the University of New Hampshire is being petitioned by several students to drop the name of Franklin Pierce from the law school. And although the decision will not rest with the faculty of the law school, sources tell IPWatchdog that 12 of the 25 full-time law school faculty support the petition.
“With the movement that we’re currently in, it felt like an opportune time to take the name off there,” Adrián Coss, a rising third-year law student at the law school who is involved with the petition told the Concord Monitor. “It’s wrong to begin with. This is racially insensitive.”
Why is the name “Franklin Pierce” racially insensitive? In a nutshell, Pierce, who did not himself own any slaves and abhorred slavery, did not do enough to put an end to the practice of slavery during his turbulent one term as President of the United States.
“I consider slavery a social and political evil,” Pierce said, “and most sincerely wish that it had no existence upon the face of the earth.” See Franklin Pierce. Unfortunately for the legacy of Pierce, he saw as his primary responsibility the preservation of the Union, and made several compromises to keep the Union together, which ultimately failed and pleased no one. History teaches that Pierce did not live up to his own convictions because he did not think the Union could survive the abolition of slavery, see Id., a prophecy that unfortunately turned out to be true.
What’s in a Name?
This story matters to me because I graduated from Franklin Pierce Law Center more than a generation ago. This matters to many within the intellectual property community in the United States and all across the world because Franklin Pierce Law Center, which was subsequently acquired by the University of New Hampshire, was one of the top intellectual property institutions in the world. A tradition carried on by Franklin Pierce Law School, the school has never been outside the top 10 rankings for intellectual property law schools since the rankings began. In the early years while I was walking the halls, FPLC enjoyed the status of the top school in the nation three years in a row. In recent years, the school has been again rising.
Once upon a time, many hundreds of international students would descend upon FPLC in Concord every summer to learn about intellectual property at the Intellectual Property Summer Institute (IPSI), which the school just relaunched this summer in virtual form due to COVID-19. Some 50 to 100 students from abroad would stay throughout the academic year. Indeed, a more diverse institution would be hard to find, with students from America, Asia, South America, Europe and Africa. That is what Franklin Pierce means to me and so many others. These international students would take turns each week sharing their stories, their culture and food from home with the school community. It was a most inclusive place.
Over time, Franklin Pierce Law Center and then the University of New Hampshire lost its focus on intellectual property—and even lost the name Franklin Pierce for nine years, when it was acquired by UNH in 2010—but somehow still managed to maintain a top 10 ranking. This lost focus caused many alums to distance from the school. With the recent hire of Dean Megan Carpenter, the school has become rededicated to intellectual property, has restored the name Franklin Pierce, and many alumni are cautiously reengaging with the school in hopes that the diverse law school that focused on intellectual property in New Hampshire named after the only President in the State’s history might regain its mojo.
And therein lies the issue. Robert Rines was the founder of Franklin Pierce Law Center. He was a patent attorney, Hall of Fame Inventor with more than 60 patents to his name, and a composer of both Broadway and off-Broadway productions. Rines chose the name “Franklin Pierce” precisely because he was the only President from the state of New Hampshire. Are we at the point in American history where institutions cannot be named after former Presidents? Perhaps we are. Princeton University made the decision to remove the name of Woodrow Wilson from its School of Public and International Affairs, a decision supported by some, and questioned by others as setting a bad example.
If we are going to judge who can have a school named after them based on the worst, most difficult or most complicated decisions the individual ever made, will we ever be able to name anything after anyone anymore?
When it comes to names, there is so much good will that attaches over time that has nothing to do with whether the name is, was or should be defined in totality by one, a few, or a series of decisions or actions devoid of consideration of the complete picture. When the University of New Hampshire removed Franklin Pierce from the name of the law school in the first instance, it severed ties with a past that had nothing to do with slavery, or racism, or even Franklin Pierce the individual. Instead, UNH severed ties with what Franklin Pierce had come to mean to those who attended a quirky and shockingly diverse institution that just happened to be named after the only President in the state’s history.
When UNH removed the name Franklin Pierce it severed itself from the memories many alums had of a genuinely good place, with genuinely good people who genuinely cared, and signaled it was something different. It lost the good will it had accumulated. Alumni openly and mockingly joked that they “attended the school formerly known as Franklin Pierce”, and student resumes made obvious notations to make sure employers knew that the University of New Hampshire was really the old Franklin Pierce Law Center. Why? Because the name Franklin Pierce had become synonymous with excellence in the field of intellectual property, wholly devoid of any association with the man who was President during the most difficult period of time in U.S. history.
It was trademark malpractice to remove the name Franklin Pierce—which had become synonymous with excellence in IP— in the first place. It would be negligent to rush to judgment, caught up in a whirlwind, and remove it a second time in order to appease what appear to be a small group of petitioners that in the words of Mr. Coss admit their actions are purely opportunistic (i.e., “it felt like an opportune time,” he told the Concord Monitor).
Cooler Heads Should Prevail
In the heat of the moment it is impossible to reflect with the proper perspective. Franklin Pierce’s name was on the school for over 35 years, it was removed for a handful of years, and now it has been reinstated after great deliberation and much celebration by alums because it has always been synonymous with excellence in IP education.
As the U.S. Senate was created as a cooling saucer for the hot passions of the House of Representatives, greater perspective ought to be brought to bear and alumni consulted before another change is made. The reputation for excellence the school rightfully deserves was built by the hard work of alums all over the world. Shouldn’t they be at least consulted?