A University of Minnesota task force called for the renaming of four buildings on campus in a report released Wednesday. The Minnesota Daily Editorial Board fully supports the task force’s recommendation. We urge University President Eric Kaler and Executive Vice President and Provost Karen Hanson to follow the task force’s report in their upcoming recommendation to the Board of Regents, as well as encourage the regents to follow the task force’s recommendation.
The process took an astounding 16 months, with the task force pushing back their deadline multiple times. Compared to other universities across the nation, the University of Minnesota has taken the longest.
Coffman Union was finished in 1939 and named for Lotus D. Coffman, who excluded African Americans from University housing and activities. Nicholson Hall was named after Edward E. Nicholson, who exhibited anti-semitic and racist behavior and often called Jewish and African American students communist. Middlebrook Hall was named after William T. Middlebrook in 1966, who also exhibited discriminatory behavior toward students of color or Jewish faith when it came to campus housing. Coffey Hall, on the St. Paul campus, got its namesake from Walter C. Coffey who played a part in establishing segregated campus housing in 1942 and supported policies that segregated black students.
Having the names of these men remain on campus buildings and dorms directly impact the school’s reputation and leaves a permanent mark on the face of our institution. These past University leaders held ideals and beliefs that no longer reflect our school’s mission.
The task force recommends each building has an exhibit installed that provides the history behind each name, including the good that each leader did for the University. They also suggest a permanent installation of “A Campus Divided” in the student union. Having our school’s history on public display would increase transparency of historic wrongdoing, remind faculty and students of the progress the University has made, and show areas where it may still need improvement. We don’t want to erase the University’s history. We want to continue acknowledging history in a way that does not celebrate historical figures who reflect racist and discriminatory practices and beliefs.
We cannot be selective with the information we share about past University sentiments. Our past mistakes should inform our future, ensuring we don’t repeat previous behavior.
We also recognize the difficulties the regents face in making the decision to change the identity of buildings, especially buildings named after prominent figures in our campus’ history. Kaler and regents will likely receive pressure from alumni and others who are invested in the University, which can make a decision like this difficult. But our strongest qualities are found in our academic opportunities and dedication to student success, which is something that students, alumni and faculty can all agree on. It is senseless to hold more value in the names of buildings than to create a campus atmosphere that encourages social awareness and growth.
The University of Minnesota has a responsibility to maintain an inclusive campus. Celebrating these men, who once kept the campus divided, does not fall in line with what University community members stand for.