Letter to the Editor: Let’s revisit the renaming controversy

The University should reckon with its racist past and be on the right side of history.

Letter to the Editor

On June 9, 2020, Ari Shapiro of NPR’s “All Things Considered” hosted an 8-minute piece called “There Is No Neutral: ‘Nice White People’ Can Still Be Complicit in A Racist Society.” The piece reminded me, again, that the University of Minnesota’s former President Eric Kaler recommended that several buildings on the Twin Cities campus be renamed in order to remove the names of former University leaders who were involved with discrimination against Black and Jewish students – but, somehow, the Board of Regents declined to take Kaler’s advice in 2019.

This indefensible decision by the Board of Regents was made even though Kaler’s position concurred with the conclusions reached by a task force convened specifically to study the history of University building names. Maybe now the Regents can get this one right, considering national and international protests of institutionalized and systemic racism – arising from the death of a Black man, George Floyd, caused by Minneapolis police officers not far from the University.

The buildings in question were named after former University leaders William Middlebrook, Lotus Coffman, Walter Coffey and Edward Nicholson. William Middlebrook, for instance, enforced housing policies that kept minority students from living in University housing. Having his name on a residence hall seems particularly absurd and egregious, given his discharging his duties in a way that kept minorities from living in campus housing. I am not aware of any evidence showing that Mr. Middlebrook displayed courage and leadership or took risk in telling his peers or superiors that racism and discrimination in the U of M student housing system was  wrong and should not occur.  

Having the names of these men honored by our great state University must be addressed again – and changed once and for all. Please remove their names now. Do it in honor of all the Black and minority youth that they harmed, do it in honor of George Floyd, do it to show Minnesota and the world that these racist actions and policies of Minnesota’s past will no longer be honored by naming buildings after these men.

This letter was submitted by Mark L. Rodgers. Rodgers is an attorney with the Rodgers Law Office in Bemidji. 

This letter to the editor has been lightly edited for style and clarity.