Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Daily Email Edition

Get MN Daily NEWS delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday!


Opinion: Nicholson Hall needs to be renamed

The building, which houses the University of Minnesota’s Center for Jewish Studies, is named after a former dean who aligned himself with notorious antisemites.
Image by Sarah Mai

The building that houses our Center for Jewish Studies is named after a man who aligned himself with antisemites. Edward E. Nicholson — the former dean of student affairs and namesake of Nicholson Hall — used his power as dean to surveil students and relay his findings back to Republican operative Ray P. Chase. Chase shamelessly used antisemitic insults against liberal politicians in Minnesota and built on long-standing ties between antisemitism and anti-communism to create a false hysteria about “Jewish Communists” from the east coast infiltrating Minnesota politics. Nicholson partnered with Chase to conduct political surveillance on leftist students, sometimes highlighting when said students were Jewish.

Knowing this, Nicholson Hall’s name is wildly inappropriate. In Nicholson Hall, the Center for Jewish Studies offers an educational program that far surpasses any other form of education on Jewish heritage in the Twin Cities. However, when Jewish students file into lecture halls and Jewish professors prepare their course materials, they do so in a building that honors a man who enabled antisemitic ideologies to spread in Minnesota.

Notably, these are not new revelations. These discussions began years before I arrived on campus, and the body of evidence cementing Nicholson’s ties to Chase is well-documented. In 2019, the Board of Regents was presented with a report summarizing Nicholson’s ties to antisemitism, yet they voted against any sort of name change. While the board is highly capable of thorough review and their decisions align with their specific goals and policies, their decision did not make Nicholson Hall’s name just. Their decision was reflective of a different environment on campus and a less robust set of policies governing the process of renaming. Now, with two buildings on the University’s campus up for review and a recently revamped policy on honorary building names, it is time to reopen these discussions.

Last year, the board unveiled new guidelines for building namings and renamings. In this policy, the board lays out the process for the retention of honorary namings and stipulates that all honorary building names are eligible for indefinite retention after 75 years. When buildings enter the process of retention review, the All-University Honors Committee is to conduct research on the namesake and decide if the name is worthy of indefinite retention.

The policy states, “The Honors Committee shall consider if retention of the name serves as an exemplar of the University’s past, present, and future and the highest aspiration of the institution’s mission and guiding principles, including the University’s diversity, equity, and inclusion goals, and the evolving landscape of University history and achievement, that it should be sustained indefinitely beyond its 75th year.”

Nicholson’s conduct was by no means an exemplar of the University’s guiding principles. The University is a place that strives to celebrate diversity, whether that is diversity of background, identity or thought. Nicholson stood against these principles and did so from a position of great power. Nicholson Hall’s name, aside from being inappropriate, is contradictory to University policy. This is why Jewish on Campus, in consultation with Jewish students and leaders at the University, penned a letter to President Joan Gabel urging the retention review of Nicholson Hall.

On a personal level, I am a politically engaged, progressive, proudly Jewish student from New York. My existence, safety and freedom on this campus are all examples of how far the University has come since Nicholson’s time as dean of student affairs 80 years ago. Yet, the fact that I show up to a classroom in Nicholson Hall multiple times a week is a small reminder of the work that is left to be done.

Renaming a building will not alone end antisemitism. We are living in a time of increasing violence and hate against Jewish people, and college campuses are not immune to this trend. That is why I am so proud of the work I am a part of at Jewish on Campus. We work with students and University administrations to ensure schools are equipped to deal with antisemitism and that Jewish students are free to fearlessly express all facets of their identity.

Changing Nicholson Hall’s name is an opportunity for Gabel and the administration to think critically about the role antisemitism has played historically at the University and demonstrate they are willing to listen to Jewish students regarding issues of great importance. Edward E. Nicholson is a reminder of the University’s darkest chapters, but removing his name from Nicholson Hall is a gesture of support to the University’s Jewish community and a commitment to a brighter future for all students, no matter who they are.

John Grossman (he/him) is a second-year student in the College of Liberal Arts and a university action coordinator with Jewish on Campus.

View Comments (2)
More to Discover

Accessibility Toolbar

Comments (2)

All The Minnesota Daily Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Gern
    Mar 1, 2024 at 12:31 pm

    How much time and money is put into this?
    If you go forward with this just name the building a color or something so this process (of virtue flag wagging) doesn’t have to happen again.

  • TA
    Mar 23, 2023 at 8:10 pm

    Please stop with the renaming garbage. Every year there’s some new aggrieved person looking for attention with crap like this.
    It’s lazy and boring.