Letter: Regents are disappointing, but not surprising, on Coffman rename effort

The students and faculty of the University of Minnesota deserve better leadership than this.

Letter to the Editor

After one of the longest reviews of its kind in the history of American higher education, the 125-page report submitted by the Task Force on Building Names and Institutional History is being dismissed by several members of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents as making “broad-brush accusations.” As someone who has advocated for college students for over five years, including in our University Student Senate, this reaction is not surprising.

The fact is former University President Lotus Coffman fought tooth and nail to keep black students out of campus housing while promoting human eugenics. Former Dean Edward Nicholson surveilled the activities of Jewish students, former President Walter Coffey re-segregated student housing and former comptroller William Middlebrook blocked several anti-discrimination measures. These are heinous, despicable and, yes, racist actions, all of which were committed by prominent University leaders acting in their official roles.

The members of the Board of Regents who deny what are, in my view, basic realities are not doing so because they seek to defend racism and bigotry. However, it is not surprising to see Regents Richard Beeson, Michael Hsu and Darrin Rosha lead the conversation in claiming that this 125-page report does not contain enough research. For several members of the board, this isn’t about the facts. For many of them, it seems to be about their longstanding contempt for student activism.

The facts of this case were clear in 2017 when “A Campus Divided” was assembled. If this debate were about the facts, we wouldn’t have needed more than 16 months for a task force to show the regents that it is racist to segregate University housing and target Jewish students. What some regents signaled Friday is that most of their members would rather put a thumb in the eye of student activists then hold former University leaders to any standard of decency. The students and faculty of the University of Minnesota deserve better leadership than this.

Angelo Jaramillo is a master of public policy candidate and student senator.

This letter has been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.