Should Names of Campus Buildings Reflect Student Demographics?

Administrator says it is "reverse racism" to seek more diversity in the names of buildings.

February 20, 2018
University of North Texas

Just over half the students at the University of North Texas are not white. But none of the 87 buildings on campus are named for a minority individual. As a result, some students have started a petition seeking to have a residence hall under construction named either for a minority individual or a woman (two campus buildings are named for women).

"We believe that it is important to promote diversity in every aspect of the student experience at our university," says the petition.

The campus is now debating not the petition, but an email sent by a woman who serves as one of the university's spokespeople sharply questioned the idea. Nancy Kolsti, the spokeswoman, sent the email to a student who was among those who organized the petition. That student then posted a screenshot of the email to Twitter.

“UNT buildings should be named after individuals who are deserving of such an honor -- not individuals who are chosen to fill a quota system that you think the university should have because you feel that it is important ‘to promote diversity in every aspect of the student experience,’” the email said.

The email also said that the student petition effort was "a form of reverse racism."

Students are questioning what it says that one of the official representatives of the university weighed in in this way. While faculty members typically express a range of views on campus policies and other issues, administrators who speak on behalf of the institution tend to be more cautious in what they say.

Kolsti has not spoken out about the controversy. But Leigh Anne Gullett, associate director of news at the university, sent an email statement to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram that defended Kolsti's right to send the email but said it did not represent the university's views.

“Honoring diversity is one of our most important values,” the statement said. “We encourage our students to take an active role in helping to shape the university and applaud the actions of our Student Government to petition for values in which they believe. UNT also supports free expression from all of its community members -- including university employees. Nancy was expressing her views as a private citizen and not speaking in her capacity as a UNT employee. Public employees generally retain the constitutional right to free speech they hold as private citizens.”

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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