Letter: Kaler’s comments on Coffman renaming a specious argument

by Allen Isaacman

As a member of the faculty for 47 years and regents professor at the University of Minnesota, I was profoundly disturbed when I read President Eric Kaler’s recent comments in the Minnesota Daily (September 25) withholding judgment on whether to rename Coffman Memorial Union. 

He insisted that before any actions are taken, it would be prudent to assess, “the total impact, the weight of accomplishments, that an individual provided to the University. Many of those accomplishments are positive of course. But then we need to use judgment and careful consideration and balance between the good things that were done and things that were not appropriate.” 

What a specious argument. There cannot be a “balance sheet” in which some undefined good by former President Lotus Coffman could possibly outweigh his racist and anti-semitic actions well-documented in the “Campus Divided Exhibition” on display in Andersen Library. Renaming Coffman Memorial Union is simply a first step toward cleaning the stain of Coffman’s legacy. 

The real issue is not about renaming buildings, but the history of injustice on our campus. Working with students, faculty, administrators and other University employees as well as  members of the larger community, President Kaler needs to articulate a clear and powerful agenda to address these abuses as well as to prevent future injustices. Hopefully, he will be up to the task.

This letter has been lightly edited for grammar and style.

Allen Isaacman is a regents professor at the University of Minnesota.