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Ending Honors for Racists

University of Michigan will rename two buildings -- one honoring a late president and the other a late professor -- after research showed them both to have promoted bigoted ideas.

March 30, 2018
 
C. C. Little

The University of Michigan Board of Regents voted Thursday to rename two buildings whose names honor a former president and a former professor, both with racist legacies.

In both cases, faculty members and students did research on the individuals who had been honored and won support from President Mark Schlissel, who took the proposals to the board. During discussion of the issue, the university created a process to review the names of individuals whose histories might make them inappropriate to be honored with university building names.

In a statement, Schlissel said that, under the new process, those advocating to change a name of a building "carry a heavy burden to justify removal of a name," but he added that "that burden has been met for these two instances."

The more prominent space being renamed has had the name of C. C. Little Science Building.

Little was president from 1925 to 1929. He was also president of the American Eugenics Society and advocated policies that would deny civil rights to immigrants, many minority individuals and others. In the 1950s, he served as a leading spokesman for the tobacco industry in contesting the idea that there was any relationship between smoking and cancer.

Students and faculty members have questioned the appropriateness of having a science building named for a racist, and one who spent a significant portion of his career advocating for scientifically false positions on behalf of cigarette companies.

Prior to becoming president of Michigan, Little was president of the University of Maine, where a building is also named for him. A spokeswoman for that university said via email, "The University of Maine is always open to discussion around community concerns, but at this point there has been no formal consideration of a name change."

The other name removed at Michigan, from a portion of a residence hall, is that of Alexander Winchell, who in the late 19th century was a professor of physics, civil engineering, geology and paleontology. His 1880 book, Preadamites, or a Demonstration of the Existence of Men Before Adam, is considered to be full of racist ideas and is typically cited these days only by those who advocate racism.

"Winchell's book continues to be used in support of white supremacy," Schlissel said. "His name does not merit, nor does it belong, as the name of one of our houses in a University of Michigan residence hall."

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