U of M explores rechristening buildings named for racist leaders

ST. PAUL--Several University of Minnesota buildings soon could get new names as leaders confront the school's racist history. President Eric Kaler this week called for a new task force composed of faculty, staff and students to bring him specific...

ST. PAUL-Several University of Minnesota buildings soon could get new names as leaders confront the school's racist history.

President Eric Kaler this week called for a new task force composed of faculty, staff and students to bring him specific recommendations for name changes by Nov. 15.

That group will pick up on the work of a committee Kaler convened last September to "guide our thinking about appropriate modern responses to historical issues on our campuses."

A library exhibit highlighting discriminatory housing practices on campus inspired the look back.

The Minnesota Student Association passed a resolution in March asking that the university rechristen the Minneapolis student union, which was named for Lotus Coffman, president from 1920-1938. The group cited Coffman's refusal to allow black students to live at the all-white Pioneer Hall at a time when discriminatory housing was both illegal and uncommon at northern universities.

The resolution identified three additional building namesakes - President Walter Coffey, Comptroller William Middlebrook and Dean of Student Affairs Edward Nicholson - as enforcers of anti-Semitic and racist practices.

Building names at the university's campuses in Duluth, Morris, Crookston and Rochester also will be reviewed.

Regent Abdul Omari said during a board meeting on Friday, Sept. 14, that he was disappointed Kaler was appointing a second task force.

"I was hoping you would have made a bold stance on this topic by now," he said.

Kaler acknowledged his deliberate pace.

"I am trying to find a space and a way for the larger community to carefully consider and weigh in on what is really an important - as far as I know, we've never renamed a building in 162 years of history. So, I am being cautious ... but we will get there," he said.

Regents Chairman David McMillan said they need time to make sure they handle a difficult and complex topic well.

"It is an equally high priority for me," he said.