Editorial: We need to learn from the renaming process

In a historic decision like the one to rename buildings on the University of Minnesota campus, the process and communication should have been much more clear.

On Friday afternoon, campus was at a stand-still as the regents decided to take up one of the most important decisions our campus has faced in recent years: should the University of Minnesota rename four buildings that bear the name of controversial historical figures?

The meeting was a disaster: regents threatened to arrest protesters, the meeting room was at capacity, leaving many to sit outside and it lacked a platform for public discourse. But more importantly, we stand to learn from the process leading up to Friday’s decision — a perspective that everyone, no matter if they support renaming or not, should agree on.

As we stand on the other side of a lengthy renaming process, we can see that our administration must do better when dealing with similar, large initiatives. Without a clear policy or standards for such a decision, the process often felt unorganized and rushed. We advocate for the creation of clear guidelines so future decisions avoid a similarly chaotic scenario. 

In creating a new set of guidelines, we ask the University provide an avenue through which student and faculty voices can be directly heard and taken into consideration. As part of the community who occupies these buildings, we feel strongly that our opinions, concerns and hesitations should hold weight in the decision-making process. Research and task forces, yes, are important. But what’s a community when those who govern it shirk their responsibility to listen to its members? 

Other universities have successfully implemented guidelines in an effort to handle these difficult situations, during which administrations are tasked with handling complex institutional histories and modern standards of decency. At Stanford University, its process consists of creating a request for the change and considering the harms associated with both renaming and keeping a namesake, as well as the person’s relationship to the university and their behavior. A committee then communicates its opinion to the university president, who makes the decision. 

Although the final decision doesn’t rest with the President, but rather the Board of Regents, a similar process can and should be adopted by the University during future endeavors. We would like to see guidelines laid out transparently within a consistent process that students and regents can abide by.

Last week’s decision left many in our campus community heartbroken and angry. Those on the other side who support the final outcome also seem dissatisfied by the path we took to get here. We need to do better. Our administration needs to do better.