University of New Hampshire (UNH) President James W. Dean decided not to change the name of the UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law after a task force of students, faculty, staff, and alumni recommended against doing so. The school considered eliminating Franklin Pierce’s, the fourteenth and only U.S. President from N.H., name because of his connections with slavery.  

In an email to students on Dec. 18, President Dean cited three reasons for not changing the name. First Dean wrote in his email, “Pierce’s conduct neither as a private citizen nor as a political leader stands out relative to others of his time.” Pierce “found slavery an abominable practice,” and did not hold any slaves himself, but he did see slaves as a cost of creating and preserving the country. 

While in office, Pierce supported the Kansas-Nebraska act which allowed voters in the Kansas and Nebraska region to decide themselves if they wanted slavery, and caused an expansion of slavery in the country.  

Dean also wrote that, “the name Franklin Pierce- almost completely independent of the man himself- has considerable brand value for school both national and internationally.” With many student and alumni finding the distinct name of the school valuable. The Franklin Pierce school of law was named the 5th best law school for intellectual property law by US News and World Report. According to the task force, the school is known international property law hub tied directly to the Franklin Pierce Law School name.  

Dean Megan Carpenter and the Student Bar Association appointed “a diverse task force of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, who recommended not to change the name.” The task force’s decision was made with the input from additional students, faculty, staff, and alumni. They explained how the survey results had strong opinions opposing and supporting the name change, and also noted that around 20% of the respondents of the survey were in different to the name change.   

“We felt that the school’s time will be better spent putting its resources and energy into other diversity and inclusion initiatives,” said Scott Amankwatia, a member of the task force who received his JD from the Franklin Pierce School of Law in 2019. “We believe that regardless of the name, the school needs to increase its efforts into fostering a diverse and welcoming environment for all.”  

The task force, that was asked to evaluate diversity and inclusion at the Law School overall, spent a whole meeting discussing the name change. “We spent a significant amount of time delving into who Franklin Pierce was, and what the name meant,” said Adraea Brown, a member of the task force who earned JD from the Franklin Pierce School of Law in 2010. “I think about what the law school has done with the name, and it is not to honor him. It took the name and it now means what is does now and that is being a wonderful institution.”  

The UNH Franklin Pierce Law School is located in Concord, NH. 172 students make up the incoming JD class of 2023.   

Photo courtesy of the University of New Hampshire