Most University of Minnesota buildings would be renamed after 75 years under a proposed policy change recently presented to the Board of Regents.
President Joan Gabel said the U has a limited number of nameable assets, and the change would enable the board to honor new people.
“If university namings and who we honor is a representation of us, of what we achieve, of our impact, of our progress, then our physical landscape of those buildings should evolve as we do,” she said. “As we have new achievements, new people to honor, new progress, so should our landscape evolve to reflect that.”
The proposal comes four years after a library exhibit at the U, “A Campus Divided,” presented evidence that three former administrators promoted segregated student housing in the 1930s and 1940s, while a fourth targeted Jewish and communist students.
A task force appointed by Gabel’s predecessor, Eric Kaler, studied the evidence and called in 2019 for the four men’s names to be scrubbed from campus buildings. Kaler agreed.
However, the Board of Regents, finding the evidence not all that clear or persuasive — and eager to move on from a debate that roiled the campus — voted 10-1 in April 2019 to keep the building names.
Since then, administrators and faculty have been working on a new process for naming and renaming campus buildings. The new policy is nearly complete, and the regents are expected to vote on it in the coming months.
Under the draft, as many as three of the four controversial building namesakes could, after all, lose their honors in the near future.
The policy calls for the U’s All-University Honors Committee to review each honorary naming as its 75th anniversary approaches.
A name will be retained indefinitely only if the committee determines the person made an “extraordinary impact” and serves as “an exemplar of the University’s past, present, and future and the highest aspiration of the institution’s mission and guiding principles, including the University’s diversity, equity, and inclusion goals, and the evolving landscape of University history and achievement.”
Gabel said if the policy is approved, it would trigger reviews for an initial batch of more than 30 buildings on the Twin Cities, Duluth, Morris and Crookston campuses.
The U has yet to provide a list of those buildings, but according to the building names task force report, two of the men to come under recent scrutiny received their honors before 1946: the Minneapolis student union was named for President Lotus Coffman in 1939, and an academic building on the Minneapolis campus was named for student affairs dean Edward Nicholson in 1945.
The honors committee could also decide to immediately review Coffey Hall on the St. Paul campus, named in 1949 for President Walter Coffey, because its 75th year is coming soon.
The final administrator to face scrutiny, comptroller and vice president of business administration William Middlebrook, got his name on a West Bank dorm in 1966.
Gabel said the honors committee will need time to produce a new list of potential building namesakes for the regents to consider.
The 75-year cap would not apply to buildings named in connection with major donations.
At least one regent, Janie Mayeron, thinks it should. “Why not? Why wouldn’t it be?” she said.
Regent Doug Huebsch said doing so could discourage donors from making large gifts.
Also, separate from the 75-year review, the policy would enable the university’s president to initiate the reconsideration of a building name at any time. In such case, the committee would be expected to considered the following factors:
- Whether the name advances the U’s “mission, guiding principles and shared history.”
- Its impact on the U’s “diversity, equity and inclusion goals.”
- “The harm caused by retaining the name, and the harmful impact” of the namesake’s behavior.
- And the relative “strength and clarity of the historical evidence” against the namesake.