Student governments host panel with task force on Coffman renaming

Minnesota Student Association, Council of Graduate Students and Professional Student Government members met with task force members to discuss the renaming of four campus buildings Wednesday.

Professor Susanna Blumenthal, a member of the task force for evaluating the names of four buildings on campus, speaks during

Jack Rodgers

Professor Susanna Blumenthal, a member of the task force for evaluating the names of four buildings on campus, speaks during “A Conversation on Institutional History” at Coffman Union on Wednesday, March 6.

Miguel Octavio

Members of different student government bodies and the task force charged with reviewing the names of four University of Minnesota buildings gathered Wednesday evening.

Minnesota Student Association, Council of Graduate Students and Professional Student Government members hosted a panel with the Task Force on Building Names and Institutional History to discuss renaming efforts on campus. The task force published a final report Feb. 20 suggesting the Board of Regents rename Coffman Union, Nicholson Hall, Middlebrook Hall and Coffey Hall, buildings named after former University administrators who upheld racist or anti-Semitic practices.

“I had the good fortune of being asked to participate in the work,” said task force member and College of Liberal Arts Dean John Coleman, who attended the meeting at the Whole Music Club. “It was really a privilege to be able to play that role. I do think it was very important work, what we did.”

MSA representatives questioned task force members about their decision-making process, how their backgrounds contributed to the report and what the renaming process would entail.

Coleman said part of the report included reviewing multiple documents and archives to reach a conclusion. Task force members stressed the influence of student input on the report.

“It’s something that students have a very proactive role in,” said Nikil Badey, MSA’s outreach director. “That very much is a statement to saying student advocacy works.”

Task force member William Jones said they also looked to other schools that have faced building renaming or removal efforts.

“We modeled those reports in our process so they were really influential,” Jones said. “In the naming process, I think there were strong similarities between our University and others.”

Renaming buildings does not mean erasing the University’s history but recognizing the school’s problems and how best to address them moving forward, Coleman said.

The recommendations come after the 2017 “A Campus Divided”exhibit displayed racist and anti-Semitic behavior by former administrators after whom the buildings are named. President Eric Kaler launched the task force on October 2018 after evaluating recommendations made by a University committee last year.

Kaler announced his support to rename the four buildings in an emailed statement addressed to the University on March 1. He is expected to present his final proposal to the Board of Regents on Friday.

The renaming of the four buildings must be approved by the Board of Regents. An announcement is expected before President-designate Joan Gabel takes office in July. Kaler and Provost Karen Hanson are also expected to assign a permanent Advisory Committee on University History to aid with potential renamings in the future. 

Kaler has set temporary names for the buildings pending review: Student Union for Coffman Union; Agricultural Administration Building for Coffey Hall; 216 Pillsbury Drive for Nicholson Hall and West Bank Residence Hall for Middlebrook Hall. 

The committee process to rename the buildings is among the longest in comparison to other schools that have undergone similar experiences. 

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Coleman. “It was a great group [of] people to work with and inspiring to work with as well.”