Report: University of Minnesota should rename 4 buildings

Published 8:45 am Friday, February 22, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS — Four buildings on the University of Minnesota campus should be renamed because of their ties to former administrators who promoted racist and anti-Semitic policies, a task force said.

The group, appointed by university President Eric Kaler, recommends scrubbing the school’s student union building of its namesake Lotus Coffman, a former president who was behind efforts to segregate student housing. The task force also recommends renaming Nicholson Hall, Middlebrook Hall and Coffey Hall, according to a report released Wednesday.

“Removing names in these instances helps reveal — not conceal — history,” the report said.

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The task force suggested installing exhibits about the administrators at each of their namesake buildings, which would recognize that many of their policies weren’t just a product of the times.

Coffman Memorial Union has drawn scorn from students since last spring, when the undergraduate student government passed a resolution to drop the former university president’s name. Coffman, who led from 1920-1938, favored segregation policies that many, “including the governor and much of the Legislature, recognized as unjust and out of step with the democratic and egalitarian values of the state.”

Edward Nicholson, the school’s dean of student affairs from 1917-1941, spied on students and faculty, even labeling some Jewish students as communists. The task force called out his use of resources and power to advance bigotries in their recommendation to rename Nicholson Hall.

Universities are often leading the waves of efforts to move or remove vestiges of racism and intolerance across the country, but the University of Minnesota has drawn criticism for taking 16 months to deliberate over what to do with the four buildings. Some students have argued that the lengthy process is due to administrators’ fear of backlash from donors, lawmakers and others.

Kaler will now review the task force’s recommendations. He plans to present a final proposal to the university’s governing board in March.