The University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents debated extensively about whether or not to rename buildings that honor leaders of the University who were involved in the segregation of campus housing in the 1930 and ‘40s. Their decision ultimately was to retain the name of the Coffman Memorial Union building, as well as other disputed campus building names.
“We appreciated ACTA’s guidance as to how a governing board should address this nuanced and sensitive topic,” said Regent Michael Hsu. Several regents raised concerns about the methodology and impartiality of the campus task force report that recommended the name changes, and suggested caution.
In an effort to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities to the entire university community, Mr. Hsu and other regents scoured University of Minnesota and Minnesota Historical Society archives from as early as 1928 in order to develop a thorough understanding of the issue at hand and the historical actors in it. In that, they exemplified the meticulousness that behooves an academic institution. They recognized the complexity of history as well. Regent Linda Cohen explained, “That is our history, and we can make statements about how our values are so different now. Changing those names erases the problem instead of helping us learn from it.”
The Regents noted, moreover, that only a minority of alumni (26%) and undergraduate students (38%) voted in favor of renaming. Minnesota taxpayers also had not been consulted on the matter, and their views were not represented in the report.
With the University gearing up to take on next year’s budget, some regents wondered if the renaming debacle was merely a distraction. The initial, hastily-convened board meeting to address the controversy had prevented campus stakeholders from grappling with the multiple viewpoints and information surrounding the issue.
It is the responsibility of the regents to consider carefully the appropriate response to any recommendation brought before the board, whether it be the renaming of a building or approving a tuition increase. The campus community, the public, and the media should view anything less as an abdication of authority, especially when an issue is one so emotionally charged.
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