President’s and Provost’s Response to the Report of the Advisory Committee on University History

Thursday, September 13, 2018

To:
John Coleman, chair, President’s and Provost’s Committee on University History, and dean, College of Liberal Arts
Members, President’s and Provost’s Committee on University History
University community

From:
Eric W. Kaler, President
Karen Hanson, Executive Vice President and Provost

Background

Almost a year ago, we appointed College of Liberal Arts Dean John Coleman to assemble and chair the President’s and Provost’s Advisory Committee on University History (Coleman Committee). We asked the committee to help guide our community’s consideration of how University history shapes us and how we can shape it.

We charged the Coleman Committee to lead a systemwide conversation examining how the University should approach calls to rename or remove names from buildings and other significant assets. We wanted our scholars and experts on historical interpretation—and the community that lives with and uses the building names—to provide a framework for decisions about specific names.

Report

We are extremely grateful for the exceptional work by faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members—from all five of our campuses—as presented in the May 2018 Coleman Report. The report outlines guiding principles and a process for renaming or removing names: a way we can reflect on our core institutional values to shape how we move forward together.

Next Steps

While we did not ask the Coleman Committee to consider specific names of buildings, we recognize that those discussions and debates were inevitable, even during the first phase of this work. In the coming week, we will finalize a charge for a task force to consider actions on the specific buildings mentioned in the recent exhibit “A Campus Divided” and on the Minnesota Student Association (MSA) proposal to rename Coffman Memorial Union. We are asking Dean Coleman and Susanna Blumenthal, William L. Prosser Professor of Law and professor of history, to co-chair this task force and report back to us by mid-November. As we finalize the formal charge to the task force, we will post that charge and subsequent updates to the President’s website.

Names of some specific buildings are the most immediate issues before this new task force. However, as recommended in the Coleman Report, we will also ask this group to help us establish a structure for a small, permanent committee with a clear connection to the University Senate to advise us and our successors on topics related to institutional history:

    • How do we link past practices and actions, our University history, with contemporary issues across our campuses?
    • Where are there opportunities for scholarship to build upon the “landscape of memory” — as some describe the at times politically contentious nature of remembering the past?
    • How should we institutionalize and support these reflective practices?

We will seek out members from the Coleman Committee with expertise in equity and diversity to assist in shaping this next phase of the work. We endorse the Coleman Report’s call for representation on the permanent committee from faculty, staff, students (including student government representatives), and select University Senate committees. We also favor the establishment of consultative groups on the Crookston, Duluth, Morris, and Rochester campuses to ensure informed consideration of potential renaming issues on their respective campuses.

Lastly, we will charge the task force with refining and operationalizing the recommended structure and procedure for considering naming changes, to be reflected in University policy.

We hope that this work will proceed expeditiously and in a consultative manner. We look forward to receiving the recommendations of the task force and to the establishment of the permanent committee on institutional history.