After Corporation Approval, Law School Seal Quickly Disappearing

Sealing the Deal
Paper Harvard seals temporarily replace the previous Harvard Law School seals on the doors to the Law School’s student center.
The once-pervasive Harvard Law School seal, criticized for its ties to slavery, is quickly disappearing.

After the Harvard Corporation granted the Law School permission last week to discard its contentious seal, the school now faces the practical implications of a major branding change: the extensive process of physically removing all traces of the image from its campus and websites by the end of April.

Until last week, the controversial crest featuring three sheaves of wheat was everywhere. It adorned the school’s doors, chairs, apparel, letterheads, web pages, social media avatars, and the large crimson banners that typically serve as the backdrop to each graduating class’ commencement ceremony.

Almost immediately after the Corporation’s decision, the school changed its profile image on social media accounts, including Twitter, from the seal to the bolded words “Harvard Law.” Paper cut-outs of the the “Veritas” seal, the emblem representing the whole University, are now taped over spots on the student center doors where the crest used to be, and the school hopes to finish removing the seal from buildings by the end of this week. And,the school’s apparel store, the Coop, will stop ordering new merchandise featuring the old seal.

The crest belonged to the Royall family, prominent slaveholders who helped endow the first law professorship at Harvard more than 200 years ago. The student group Royall Must Fall began calling for the seal’s removal last fall, and Law School Dean Martha L. Minow created a committee in late November to reconsider its use. The committee released a report to the Corporation in early March requesting to change it, a recommendation the Corporation approved last week.

The Law School is now turning to the logistical challenge of excising itself from the seal. Rohit Deshpande, a Harvard Business School professor and marketing specialist, said logo changes of this scale are rare because of the expense. Law School spokesperson Robb London said he did not have a cost estimate for the change.

When changes like this do occur, Deshpande said, the best branding strategy is to execute them rapidly.

“What they’re trying to do is maintain or create loyalty to the brand, so they want to do this fairly quickly,” Deshpande said.

Quickly is exactly how Law School Dean for Administration Francis X. McCrossan—who is leading the effort to coordinate the seal’s removal—is approaching the process, he wrote in an email sent to school affiliates Friday.

London estimates there are about 200 places on campus that display the seal, a figure that does not include its online manifestations and the printed materials and letterhead departments and administrators use.

In his email Friday, McCrossan said the school’s Facilities Office is working to remove or cover up the seal on all buildings this week. The Communications Office has already removed the seal from the school’s official social media pages, and is tasked with re-configuring the school’s web-pages by the end of April.

In the email, McCrossan requests that departments and programs cease using print materials featuring the seal, directing them to the Communications Office to order replacements. He also asks people who have removed seals themselves to return them for potential use in an exhibit about the Royall family in the future.

The school has also asked vendors to stop producing merchandise displaying the seal and requested that the University’s Office of Trademark Programs no longer approve product designs containing the image.

While the Law School Coop will stop ordering new merchandise with the seal, Coop president Jerry Murphy said the store will sell the rest of its inventory, meaning that the seal will not disappear from the the Coop’s racks immediately. Murphy predicts that demand for merchandise bearing the seal will increase as it becomes a rare commodity.

“It becomes more valuable now because people know it’s going away, so they want to buy it,” he said.

London said he does not anticipate the change impacting the school’s ongoing capital campaign. Because donors to educational institutions typically identify more with the name of the school than with its logo, Deshpande said, a logo change is unlikely to hurt fundraising efforts.

A new seal will be designed in time for the school’s bicentennial in 2017, which London called an opportunity for reflection. “There's a natural synergy between that kind of reflection and the process of designing a new symbol for the school,” he wrote.

Deshpande said that from a marketing standpoint, the school’s decision to time the rollout of a new seal with the bicentennial is smart. “They’re putting a positive interpretation on it, because the bicentennial is a time of celebration,” he said. “It’s a very smart time to do it, so it’s less of an apology for history and a slaveholder image, and more of looking forward to the school and [its] third century.”

—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at claire.parker@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.

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