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Renaming to resurface at next regents meeting

The conversation will be the first geared toward creating definitive guidelines for how to rename a building.
Hailee Schievelbein
Hailee Schievelbein

In a meeting last April, the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents voted against renaming four buildings on campus, ending a campaign endorsed by then-President Eric Kaler to visibly reckon with the University’s history.

“I want you to know, that this board is not just going to put this issue on the shelf,” said former Regent Dean Johnson, who acted as board chair for that meeting. “There is much dialogue and many meetings left to be held over this issue.”

Though Johnson did not return to the board this year, the renaming conversation is scheduled to resurface at next week’s meeting.

Regents will not focus on the renaming of any particular building, but will explore the first of what will likely be several discussions about creating procedures to guide any future renaming effort. Still, some regents feel the task force’s work should be reviewed before University President Joan Gabel can fulfill a charge to address the University’s history in other ways. 

“We don’t have any policies, especially for renaming, and we knew that before, but for some reason we got off on this thing where it was like a race to rename these buildings,” said Regent Michael Hsu, vice chair of the Governance and Policy Committee, where the discussion will take place.

During efforts to rename buildings last year, several regents raised issue with the lack of distinct policy laying out how to approach renaming a building.

“We committed to an open discussion forum on how that kind of research gets done, and how that history is created,” said Board Chair Ken Powell.

Regent Darrin Rosha said the board is obligated to establish a procedure for how issues of the University’s history will be addressed, and it “was very unfortunate the task force was not given that clarity.”

Rosha said the board needs to create standards and processes to assess what kinds of evidence are appropriate when making judgements about former administrators’ actions.

Regents may look to Stanford University, which created policy to facilitate the potential renaming of buildings or various features, such as streets and monuments, on its campus. Sanford’s guidelines underscore the importance of procedures, as improvised methods are likely to provoke controversy and reduce efficiency of the overall process.

Last spring’s effort to rename buildings at the University of Minnesota proved this true, as the process was muddled from the start. The faculty task force report on the history of the administrators decisions was delayed three times. Soon after its release, several regents questioned the report’s findings at a contentious March meeting.

The debate came to a head at a special April meeting, where despite protests from faculty and student attending the meeting, the board ultimately rejected renaming. 

Members of the task force have repeatedly stood by the integrity of their work. The Star Tribune reported over the summer that internal emails show no indication they conspired to make up facts. 

The lone supporting regent, Abdul Omari, is no longer on the board. Since this meeting boiled over, there are four new regents, a new University president and new student leaders.

Rosha was one of three regents who did not support a resolution passed by the board in April commending the task force for its work. Hsu, who voted alongside Rosha, said he wants the task force’s work to go through a scholarly peer-review.

Still, Hsu said he wants to review the task force’s work before Gabel can complete a charge passed by the board in April to devise ways to reckon with the University’s history short of stripping names off buildings.

“How are you going to figure out how to educate people when you don’t even know what the truth is?,” he said.

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