In the summer of 2020, University of Virginia School of Law Dean Risa Goluboff appointed an ad hoc committee of alumni, faculty, staff, and students to recommend whether she should pursue, through the appropriate University channels, removal of Henry Malcolm Withers’s name from the Law School building’s eastern wing, commonly known as Withers-Brown Hall.
The Law School is a single building made up of several different sections. These sections, built over time, bear the names of donors and alumni. One section of Withers-Brown Hall known as Withers Hall is named for Henry Malcolm Withers, who attended the Law School in the 1860s. The other section of the hall is named for Walter L. Brown ’26.
The Renaming Process
Committee members reviewed and discussed the University’s Naming Policies, which set forth how renaming requests may be submitted, considered, and determined; the Guiding Principles outlined by the April 22, 2020 Report of the Naming Subcommittee to the University’s Committee on Names, which further articulate how the University should evaluate renaming requests; as well as the work of other similarly charged committees at the University of Virginia and other institutions.
The Naming Policies require the University to engage in serious and substantial scholarly research that addresses the contribution and legacy of individuals after whom University entities have been or might be named; the meanings that existing names have accrued over time, in context, across the University community; and the ways such names can contribute to building traditions and community at the University. This research must also be made a part of the public record.
To fulfill the Naming Policies’ due diligence requirement, the Law School’s ad hoc committee engaged a historical consultant, who conducted primary and secondary research on Henry Withers’s life, as well as the circumstances by which Withers Hall came to bear his name. This website presents the results of the historical consultant’s research.
The committee also sought community input on the historical research presented and the Withers Hall name. Within a week, UVA Law alumni, faculty, staff, and students submitted more than 825 comments. UVA Law alumni submitted 86% of comments, with the remainder submitted by current UVA Law students, faculty, and staff. The results showed that:
- 84% of commenters advocated for the removal of the Withers name.
- 11% of commenters thought the Withers name should remain in place.
- 1% of commenters specifically advocated that the building be renamed Armour Hall in honor of the donor.
- 4% of commenters did not offer opinions on the issue of removal.
In early August 2020, the Law School’s ad hoc committee unanimously recommended that Dean Goluboff request removal of Henry Withers’s name from Withers-Brown Hall.
Dean Goluboff concurred with the ad hoc committee’s recommendation. Per University policy, she formally requested that the University’s Committee on Names consider removing Henry Withers name from the Law School’s eastern wing and submitted an executive summary to the committee.
The University’s Committee on Names voted in favor of Dean Goluboff’s request and forwarded their endorsement to University President James Ryan in August 2020.
President Ryan approved the renaming request and submitted the matter to the University’s Board of Visitors for final approval.
On Sept. 11, 2020, the Board of Visitors adopted a resolution removing Henry Withers’s name from what had been known as Withers-Brown Hall. The eastern wing of the Law School building will now be known as Brown Hall.