- Charles Koch Foundation gives law school $10 million
- Anonymous donor adds $20 million with name change condition
George Mason University is renaming its law school after the late Justice Antonin Scalia after obtaining $30 million in pledged funding from donors, including the Charles Koch Foundation.
The school’s board of visitors approved the renaming of its law school to The Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University after striking a deal with an anonymous donor and the Charles Koch Foundation to receive the $30 million, which will fund three new scholarships.
The name change was a contingency placed on George Mason by the anonymous donor, who agreed to provide $20 million of the $30 million, the school’s dean Henry N. Butler said in an interview. The switch is pending approval from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, the school said Thursday.
The $30 million gifts mark the largest donation the school has ever received, it said in a statement.
As Butler pursued the deal over the past 10 months, the dean said he kept his plans close to the vest.
“It was my idea and I didn’t share it with a lot of people because it was so audacious,” Butler said. “There were very few people in the faculty that knew that this was coming down the pike.”
He added: “It was a very big transaction that was coming through, and loose lips sinks ships.”
The newly acquired scholarship funds will help recruit higher quality students, and ultimately increase the school’s ranking on the influential U.S. News and World Report, Butler said. It placed No. 45 on the magazine’s list of best U.S. law schools in 2016.
“We’ve been hanging around 40 in the U.S. News and World Report for quite a while, and I thought it was time to take an aggressive move to try and get higher,” said Butler. “I want to get it in the top 30.”
While several alums said the name change makes sense -- the school has “a law and economics pedigree” and is generally known for its conservative legal philosophy -- Butler acknowledged criticism in the wake of the news.
Scalia, who died in February at 79, served 30 years on the U.S. Supreme Court and was known for his conservative interpretation of the law. He was a champion of originalism, a theory that the law should be understood based on what the founders of the Constitution initially intended.
“There are a few students who are concerned about it, some that are thrilled about it, and everyone is talking about it,” Butler said.
Butler became dean of George Mason University School of Law in June. In July, he pitched Charles Koch Foundation president Brian Hooks on the $30 million scholarship fund during a one-hour meeting at the organization’s office in Arlington, Virginia.
Butler said he hoped to receive the whole $30 million from the Koch Foundation, but after mulling over the proposal, Hooks agreed to provide only $10 million, with the understanding that George Mason would raise the final $20 million.
“I was hoping for one big check, of course, but it was a contingent offer that came through,” said Butler. “With the help of Leonard A. Leo of the Federalist Society, we were able to identify another donor who made his gift contingent on the name change.”
The $30 million will go to three separate scholarships, the school said.
One, called the Antonin Scalia Scholarship, will award students with top academic credentials. Another, the A. Linwood Holton, Jr. Leadership Scholarship, will award students who have overcome barriers to academic success, demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities, or who have helped others overcome discrimination in any facet of life. The third, the F.A. Hayek Law, Legislation and Liberty Scholarship, will award students who have demonstrated interest in studying the application of economic principles to the law.
The scholarships will be made available to prospective student applicants immediately, Butler said.
“I think it’s completely appropriate, given the ideological bent of the law school,” said Douglas Foley, a partner at McGuirWoods who graduated from George Mason University School of Law in 1992. “It’s definitely on the conservative side.”
According to a release, George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university, enrolling more than 33,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states.