Where do the regents stand on renaming buildings?

The Board of Regents appears split, with several regents opposed to renaming Coffman Union and three other buildings on campus, while others say they still haven’t made up their mind. Only one regent has voiced support for renaming thus far.

Diagram by Morgan La Casse. Photos courtesy of the University of Minnesota

Diagram by Morgan La Casse. Photos courtesy of the University of Minnesota

Austen Macalus

Board Chair David McMillan: Unknown

Chair McMillan said in an emailed statement to the Minnesota Daily that the board would continue to have a “constructive and candid dialogue around these important topics.” However, he declined to comment to the Minnesota Daily on his own position about renaming.

At the board’s meeting last month, McMillan acknowledged there are “varying views on the subject” of renaming and asked community members to be “understanding and accepting of differences in perspective.”

Regent Kendall Powell: Unknown

Powell was not at the board’s meeting last month to discuss renaming. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Minnesota Daily. 

Regent Thomas Anderson: Undecided

Anderson told the Minnesota Daily that he couldn’t make up his mind on renaming until the board discusses the issue more. “I need to make an informed decision and I need to hear all sides,” he said. “I think everybody has to be heard. All sides of the issue.” 

Regent Richard Beeson: Unknown 

At the board’s meeting last month, Beeson said he’s “looking for more information and more thinking about historical context.” Beeson also said he wants to meet with living family members of former administrators.  

“We are dealing with people who can’t defend themselves, obviously, and whose descendants are concerned about the revisiting of history eight decades later with the full force of the University’s administration behind it,” he said. Beeson did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Minnesota Daily. 

Regent Linda Cohen: Undecided

*Retiring from the board this spring

Cohen told the Minnesota Daily that her mind is not made up on renaming buildings: “I think it’s a very, very complicated issue.”

Though she “admired the work” of the task force, Cohen said she wants more discussion among regents, faculty and student leaders and members of the task force. 

“I do think it would helpful to the board to be able to have a conversation back and forth with enough time where people really listen to each other,” she said. “I want to listen … I want to come in without a preconceived notion and really hear the various points of view.”

Regent Michael Hsu: Against renaming 

Hsu told the Minnesota Daily the evidence he’s found thus far is not enough for him to support renaming. “I know that I cannot vote for changing the names without having more work done,” he said. “[Renaming] can’t go anywhere until we understand such a flawed report. We have to understand whether there is any funny business going on.”

Hsu has also vocally opposed the task force’s recommendations to rename buildings on campus, calling for an investigation into if the report omitted important information and if task force members committed “academic dishonesty.”

Regent Dean Johnson: Unknown

*Running for at-large seat this spring

Johnson has not made any comments on the issue of renaming. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Minnesota Daily.

Regent Peggy Lucas: Undecided

*Running for 5th Congressional District seat this spring 

Regent Lucas told the Minnesota Daily she’s still undecided about renaming. “I think there’s plenty of history to tell, I just don’t know how to do it,” she said.  

Though she “respects” the task force’s work, Lucas said she’s not sure what’s the best remedy. “I doubt if it’s taking the names off, but I’m not closed minded,” she said. 

Regent Abdul Omari: Supports renaming 

*Student regent chair open; Omari running for at-large seat this spring

Omari is the only regent thus far to voice support for renaming. 

“I haven’t been presented with enough evidence that shows these men should be on the buildings that our students walk through every day,” Omari told the Minnesota Daily. “This is one of the highest things that we acknowledge at the University, so let’s find some extraordinary people to be on there,” he said.

Even if regents don’t go forward with renaming, Omari said there are other ways they should recognized the University’s history of racism, anti-Semitism and segregation, like installing historical exhibits in buildings. “No matter what happens to the names on the buildings, there is a history of the University of Minnesota that needs to be acknowledged,” he said.

Regent Darrin Rosha: Against renaming 

Rosha told the Minnesota Daily, “Based on what’s provided to us so far, the case has not been made [for renaming] because the evidence does not support the conclusions that were put before us.”

Though there’s no question about discrimination at the time, Rosha isn’t convinced former University President Lotus Coffman and other administrators were those at fault; he said former administrators followed the direction of the regents at the time.

“I will say that the evidence that was presented when considered more closely and including the additional material that I’ve reviewed and others have presented, it does not appear that the individuals were accurately depicted,” he said. “I would suggest if evidence is scant and ambiguous, it cannot support the renaming of buildings.”

Regent Randy Simonson: Undecided 

“I just don’t know right now,” Simonson told the Minnesota Daily about whether he would support renaming.

“If I had to vote today I would say no. But I want to be fair. I want to hear all sides fairly,” he said, explaining that he wanted more time to talk about renaming with the task force and family members of former administrators.

Though the University’s history of discrimination is obviously wrong, “Where do you stop? That’s my concern about this,” Simonson said. “How far back do you go? Do we start renaming cities? Do we start taking down statues? It’s a tough one for me.”

Regent Steve Sviggum: Against renaming

Sviggum told the Minnesota Daily he does not support renaming buildings on campus. “If I were to take a vote right now, it would be against renaming the buildings,” he said. “Nothing that I have seen so far would change my mind.”

Instead, Sviggum said he would like to see some kind of “interpretative sign” placed in buildings that could tell the University’s history. He said the University should “[recognize] the past is not always what it should have been, but also that we are moving forward with a more just society.”

Source: Minnesota Daily reporting

Editor’s note: Regent Peggy Lucas stated she was undecided after initial publication. The current article reflects her comments about the issue.

Regents split on renaming 

Despite endorsements from top administrators, student leaders and a task force of experts, the ultimate decision to rename buildings on the University of Minnesota campus rests with the Board of Regents.

But as discussion on renaming has ramped up, the regents appear split on the issue. A burgeoning rift could prolong the board’s final decision and, possibly, stymie renaming efforts completely.

“I think things are up in the air right now,” said Regent Linda Cohen. “Right now, I think that there are several board members who are undecided.”

Though administrators planned to come to a conclusion before President Eric Kaler leaves in July, a contentious debate about the University’s past and controversial historical figures has complicated that timeline. A board meeting last month exposed stark divides between regents and the University task force that recommended renaming buildings.

“From the comments and statements at the board meeting, I think any observer would believe that we do not have seven votes on the board to rename. So I think right now if we took a vote, it probably would not pass,” Kaler said in a recent interview with the Minnesota Daily. “But again, more conversation and dialogue needs to be had.”

However, the board’s makeup could significantly change after regents elections this spring.

At least two new regents will join the board, with Cohen retiring and an open student regent chair. Incumbent regents Abdul Omari, Peggy Lucas and Dean Johnson are all running to stay on the board, but the House and Senate higher education committees did not forward any of them. That means up to one-third of the board could switch over before regents make a decision on renaming.

The board will discuss renaming again at their next meeting in May. After apologizing to task force members for what some criticized as a disrespectful board meeting last month, Chair David McMillan said he spoke to administrators, faculty and student leaders about how to move forward.

“We are all committed to moving forward with constructive and candid dialogue around these important topics. Once we have more information on next steps, we will make that information known,” McMillan said in an email statement through a University press secretary.

Regent Abdul Omari, the only member of the board to explicitly support renaming thus far, said the discussion about renaming has “been so convoluted that people are forgetting there was blatant racism, anti-Semitism and segregation.”

Though some regents have called on the University to meet with descendants of former administrators, Omari said regents should also meet with family members of those affected by the University’s discrimination. “I want people to think about talking to someone who is being discriminated and segregated against, if discrimination and segregation was okay in that context,” he said. 

Even if buildings aren’t renamed, Omari said the University needs to recognize its full history; he supports installing historical exhibits in buildings, one of the task force’s recommendations.

“No matter what happens to the names on the buildings, there is a history of the University of Minnesota that needs to be acknowledged, good, bad or otherwise,” he said.

Last week, regents Darrin Rosha and Michael Hsu, two of the most vocal critics of the report, met with student leaders to discuss renaming.

“Students leaders, to their credit, have engaged in the conversation as far as wanting to seek clarity on the materials that form the basis of the recommendation,” said Rosha, who criticized the task force for “mischaracterizing” evidence.

University senior Chloe Williams, who started a petition to rename Coffman Union, was one of the students in that meeting. Williams said she still doesn’t see “eye-to-eye” with the regents and that she’s “wary” about renaming efforts going forward.

“Right now, I don’t see it happening any time soon. I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” she said. “In the end, I just don’t see us coming to an agreement on the situation at hand.”

Task force co-chair John Coleman echoed the need for more conversation. “Going forward, whether there is renaming or not, I hope there will be constructive campus conversations about our University’s history — understanding it better, learning from it, and acting upon it where appropriate,” said Coleman in an emailed statement.

Regent Thomas Anderson said there’s a lot to discuss in coming months, which could push back the board’s decision until after Kaler leaves.

“From the one meeting we had and the differences of opinion from everybody, whether its faculty, students, alumni or board members, I think it’s going to be very difficult to come to a conclusion by July 1,” he said.

Regent Randy Simonson also said he doesn’t expect a decision will be made before then.

“This is not something we need to hurry through. This is a big deal,” he said.