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February 22, 2017 - Image 12

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017 // The Statement
Wednesday, February 22, 2017 // The Statement

The Push to Change History on Campus
Looking in the Mirror

b y J a c k i e C h a r n i g a, Daily Staff Reporter

n an opening scene of “The Dan-

gerous Experiment,” a play that

premiered last month, James Bur-


Michigan president, stands before

the Board of Regents at a late 1870s meeting

to fight for women’s right to admission to the


As a contribution to the ongoing bicenten-

nial celebration, the play — written by LSA

junior Emma McGlashen — depicts a time in

University history when forward-thinking

campus leaders faced resistance from the

institutional norms of the day. Portrayed as a

fatherly figure, Angell challenges his conser-

vative opponents in favor of a woman’s right to

enroll at the University.

“What struck me most strongly, doing

research, was the humanity in the history,”

the play’s program quotes McGlashen as say-

ing. “Social movements of the time inspired

some and threatened others. The students

were barely adults, and the adults were just

doing the best with the world they lived in,

and that’s the most quintessentially human


However, there is more to Angell’s his-

tory than can be conveyed on a stage. Today,

Angell is known as the namesake of Angell

Hall and the oldest senior honor society at the

University. The beloved Michigan Union was

dedicated to him. Few, however, associate him

with negotiating an exclusionary immigration

policy viewed darkly in U.S. history.

Following his tenure as University presi-

dent, Angell played a key role in drafting the

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 while serving as

U.S. minister to China. Renamed “The Angell

Treaty,” it became the first comprehensive

law limiting immigration to the United States.

The treaty led to a decade-long moratorium on

Chinese laborers and restricted those who had

already migrated in response to racial preju-

dice and anger over wage competition on the

West Coast. Chinese immi-

gration would be effectively

banned until 1943.



nation have been roiled by

the question of historical

revisionism, or the desire

to reconcile modern moral-

ity with the darker points

of an academic institution’s


At Yale University, stu-

dents staged a sit-in at

Calhoun College in protest

of the school’s namesake,

alum John C. Calhoun the

seventh vice president of

the U.S., who championed

slavery as a “positive good.”

Earlier this month, Yale

administrators agreed to

rename the college after

Grace Hopper, a Yale alum,

computer science pioneer

and Navy admiral.

In late 2015, Princeton

University students chal-

lenged the name of the uni-

versity’s Woodrow Wilson

School of Public and Inter-


Wilson — who served as pres-

ident of both Princeton and

later the United States — was a champion of

national self-determination and democracy

abroad, his administration pursued domestic

segregationist policies far more aggressive

than those of his predecessors. In spite of the

president’s controversial policies, Princeton’s

board of trustees declined to rename the

school in April 2016.

Debates surrounding the renaming of Uni-

versity buildings raise an uneasy question:

How can the dark episodes of American his-

tory be reconciled with the country’s current


Former LSA Dean Terrence McDonald, a

professor of history and director of the Bent-

ley Historical Library, currently serves as

chairman of the President’s Advisory Com-

mittee on University History, which was

commissioned by University President Mark

Schlissel in the spring of 2016 to draft guide-

lines for renaming University buildings.

The committee released a memo in Janu-

ary outlining eight principles for consider-

ation upon renaming a University building,

including pedagogy, interpretation, histori-

cal and institutional context, contemporary

effect and a proposed process for implementa-

tion. There are, however, no binding rules for

future buildings, and any name change must

receive approval from the board.

“Our document is not a policy on naming,”

McDonald said. “If a historical question is

raised about an existing name, that’s when

we come into play. None of the principles will

determine (what names are chosen), but taken

together they will offer perspectives.”

McDonald said the timing of the memo is

explained by the coming of age, not only of the

University, but of academic institutions across

the nation.

“It’s really incredible how much we’re start-

ing to learn about the University,” McDonald

said. “These issues of … naming buildings have

been in the air at other campuses at well. Their

own anniversaries have created this pushback

to history. Georgetown was financially saved

by the sale of slaves. How do you deal with it?”


Hindsight has not favored Clarence Cook

Little, a biologist who was president of the

University from 1925 to 1929. Born to an “old

Boston family” that traces its lineage to Paul

Revere, Little progressed to Harvard Univer-

sity, where he studied genetics and cancer.

After serving as an officer in World War

I, Little jumped between various academic

positions, serving as president of the Univer-

sity of Maine from 1922 to 1925 before he was

appointed president of the University.

Serving as University president from 1925

to 1929, Little’s name has been attached to

the C.C. Little Science Building on Central

Campus since 1968. In recent years, however,

students have questioned whether his name

contradicts the University’s values.

During his brief tenure, Little did rela-

tively little. He banned alcohol in fraternity

houses, tried to limit the use of automobiles in

some areas of campus and expanded research

resources available to faculty. Little resigned

after four years — hurt by a recent divorce and

facing opposition from segments of the faculty

— and dedicated the remainder of his career to

research, becoming managing director of the

American Cancer Society in 1929.

However, Little was also a firm believer

in eugenics, a now-discredited pseudo-sci-

ence that sought to improve the human race

through selective breeding, maintaining that

certain genes were defective and should be

kept from reproducing.

In Europe, Nazi leaders used eugenics

to justify violent and discriminatory poli-

cies against Jews and other populations they

deemed “inferior,” such as homosexuals, dis-

abled people and Romani.

Little was a president of the American

Eugenics Society, an organization that spear-

headed the promotion of eugenics education

nationwide. He also supported eugenic ster-

ilization, maintaining that those who were

deemed “unfit” for breeding should be steril-

ized. In accordance with the sterilization laws

enacted by the state, the University’s hospital

performed forced sterilizations until the mid-

20th century.

Little’s beliefs were not unique to the time,

nor was he alone at the University. Eugenics

was widely accepted across the medical pro-

fession and Victor Vaughan, the first dean of

the University’s Medical School, held similar

views. The Victor Vaughan building is also

located on Central Campus, serving as a hos-

pital administration building located on Cath-

erine Street.

Because of his belief in eugenics, Little sup-

ported birth control — an unusual position at the

time — as a means to prevent what he considered

unworthy pregnancies.

Along with John Harvey Kellogg, popularly

known as the cereal magnate and less popularly

known for his questionable politics and support

for eugenics, Little helped organize the third

Race Betterment Conference in 1928, at which

people shared what would now be considered

discriminatory, exclusionary and racist ideas.

“It’s the easiest thing in the world to judge

people by our contemporary standards,” McDon-

ald said. “What we know and stand for and what

people in the time knew and stood for. And we

need to understand that. And historians

wrestle with that all the time, but that’s the

complicated thing. How do we have sufficient

knowledge, and empathy, and how can we

stand back and judge what they did?”

A panel discussion, titled “The Power of

Place-Naming: C.C. Little, Eugenics, and the

University of Michigan,” will be held in April

to debate the merits of the continued use of

Little’s name on campus buildings. Ameri-

can Culture Prof. Alexandra Stern, author of

“Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Bet-

ter Breeding in Modern America” is organiz-

ing the panel.

Stern said her bicentennial event will

explore the implications of the University’s

history as it pertains to Little. She said while

there were many connections between the

eugenics movement in the early 20th century

and the University, the same could be said for

prominent universities across the country.

“But what is interesting and what prompts

us to use the bicentennial as a period of

reflection,” Stern said. “He was only presi-

dent for four years — he appears to have left

due to some pressure because of his contro-

versial ideas and some of his discriminatory


The panel discussion, which Stern hopes

will consist of three to four faculty members,

will create the forum for a conversation about

the process of naming, and talk through it as

part of a deliberative process.

“I’m not coming to the event with my deci-

sion already made about what should hap-

pen to the building,” Stern said. “Should the

building be renamed? Who was C.C. Little?

What does it mean that thousands of under-

graduates everyday are going into this build-

ing named after a person with those beliefs?

Do we erase history if we take a name off the

building, and if we do, do we sanitize the past

to make it cleaner and neater for ourselves?”

Stern said that though it was planned

before the memo’s release, her event coin-

cides in the spirit of those guidelines.

Overall, Stern said, she believes the nam-

ing process at the University should not be

lightly undertaken. In the context of history,

she said, figures praised in their time, like

C.C. Little, may not remain so pleasant when

viewed through the lens of their contempo-


“I think the real question is: Does the C.C.

Little name and does his history, does it rise

to the level of needed to be renamed by the

University?” Stern said. “The fact is it is get-

ting close to that threshold, because it keeps

coming up.”


Further complicating the question of the

naming of University buildings is the influ-

ence of donors. Contrary to what most believe,

Jim Harbaugh’s job title isn’t the head coach

of the Michigan football team. Instead, he is

officially the J. Ira and Nicki Harris family

head football coach. Because of a $10 million

donation to the Athletics Department, all

those who hold the position will also bear the

Harris family name.

Those who donate to the University decide

what happens to their funds, which has occa-

sionally been a point of contention with the

University community. When the renaming

guidelines were released in January, mem-

bers of the campus community rehashed some

recent naming grievances, including the con-

troversy surrounding the changing of Denni-

son Hall to Weiser Hall

in 2014. The change

was enacted when Ron

Weiser — a sitting Uni-

versity regent — made a

$50 million donation to

the school.


lighted pedagogy as the

most essential of the

guidelines for renam-

ing buildings. For him,

every naming oppor-

tunity can be a teach-

ing opportunity, even

in cases of financial



perfectly generous gift

to the University, that’s

an excellent thing to

teach about,” McDon-

ald said. “When some-

one makes a donation,

it’s not inappropriate

to put their names on

it. We’re teaching about

generosity, and giving

back and commitment

to this University. It can

be a good example of


Weiser was not the only

donor to face pushback for attempting to rename

a building after himself. Last semester, Regent

Mark Bernstein (D) donated $3 million to the

reconstruction of the Trotter Multicultural Cen-

ter on the condition it be renamed the Bernstein

Multicultural Center. Amid criticism by students

and members of the campus community that

changing the name of the center would erase

William Monroe Trotter’s legacy, Bernstein

withdrew the funds.

Trotter was a civil rights activist and co-

founder of the NAACP in 1909. The Trotter Cen-

ter is the only building on campus named after an

African American.

These episodes raise the question of whether

the name of a historical figure can be replaced

by a large donor in the future.

“When the University makes a commitment

to a name, it’s a very serious commitment,”

McDonald said. “We have to understand this

is the commitment the University’s made.

There is a heavy burden of proof to change a


Tappan Hall, named after Henry Philip

Tappan, the first University president, hous-

es the Fine Arts Library. The building was

named after him in the 1890s, 40 years after

his 11-year term.

“It would be hard to find a critic for Presi-

dent Tappan ... (even though he) was vehe-

mently opposed to the admission of women,”

McDonald said. “What do you do about this?

He was a visionary leader, except for one

thing. Nobody’s perfect, no context is com-


As the University looks beyond the bicen-

tennial, these naming debates will continue.

Though these are not questions with easy

answers, context as well as understanding

are crucial tools moving forward.


James Burrill Angell

Clarence Cook Little

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