A University of Minnesota task force has recommended changing the names of four Twin Cities campus buildings because of what it deemed their namesakes' racist or anti-Semitic practices.
The group's report, released Wednesday, comes after a 16-month process that some regents and students have criticized as overly plodding, with the task force following up last year on the work of an earlier committee. The task force backed renaming Coffman Memorial Union — for former U President Lotus Coffman, who presided over a major university expansion but also excluded black students from campus housing and programs — as well as three other buildings. President Eric Kaler will review that report and present his own proposal to the U's governing board in March.
The task force's 125-page report acknowledges that the tenures of former administrators for which the buildings are named can't be viewed outside the context of their eras.
"But neither do we believe they were without choice, particularly given the power and discretion they exercised in their administrative roles," the report said.
The other buildings the task force recommended renaming are:
• Nicholson Hall, named after Edward Nicholson, the U's first dean of student affairs from 1917 to 1941, who the report says cracked down on political speech and student activism.
• Middlebrook Hall, named after William Middlebrook, who served in various administrative roles from 1925 to 1959, backing practices that discriminated against minority and Jewish students, according to the report.
• Coffey Hall, named after 1940s U President Walter Coffey, who the report says supported policies to exclude and segregate black students.
The U's undergraduate student government passed a resolution last spring to start calling Coffman Memorial Union simply Memorial Union, a practice leaders have encouraged fellow students to embrace even before any official renaming. More than 1,500 students have signed a pledge to drop "Coffman" from the name proactively.
Simran Mishra, the Twin Cities undergraduate student body president, said she welcomes the task force's unequivocal support for renaming. She also cheered a recommendation to examine the legacy of the four former campus leaders — both their accomplishments and the questionable aspects of their work — in exhibits, courses and lectures.
"This report is very thoroughly researched, and I'm impressed the task force put it together in such a short time frame," she said.
Mishra said some students on campus have voiced concern about erasing university history by renaming buildings; others have questioned if such a move is worth the possible cost. But she said students and some alumni she has spoken with have expressed broad support for changing the names.
Some students have charged the university has moved too slowly on the issue, perhaps out of concern it could face backlash from donors, lawmakers and others.
Kaler argued for a careful, thoughtful process to weigh changing the names, noting this would be the first time this has happened on the U's campus. He has said helping the regents make a decision on renaming buildings is a top priority in his final year, so his successor, University of South Carolina Provost Joan Gabel, will not have to deal with the issue when she takes over in July.
Kaler and Provost Karen Hanson praised the task force, made up of employees and students.
"Their comprehensive, extensively researched report and thoughtful analysis provide us with the information and context we need in order to determine the recommendations we will give to the Board of Regents next month," they said in a joint statement.
The impetus to examine campus building names came from a 2017 exhibit named "A Campus Divided," which explored racist and anti-Semitic practices by former administrators.
The U said it will form a permanent Advisory Committee on University History, which could consider renaming other buildings, including on the university's four greater Minnesota campuses.
Mila Koumpilova • 612-673-4781