Michigan Donor Pulls $3M Gift Over Naming Concerns

July 22, 2016

The University of Michigan's Board of Regents chairman and his wife are rescinding a $3 million gift toward a new multicultural center because their names would go on the structure, raising worries the only building on campus named for an African-American was being replaced.

Chairman Mark Bernstein and his wife, Rachel Bendit, will withdraw the gift, originally announced in April. University of Michigan protocols called for the building to be renamed Bernstein-Bendit Hall. But the university's current multicultural center, named for newspaper founder and equal rights activist William Monroe Trotter, is the only building on Michigan's Ann Arbor campus named for an African-American. The center would still have been called the Trotter Center, but many objected to having the name taken off of the building, according to the Detroit Free Press.

"We spent time with faculty, students, staff and alumni who shared with us their sense of loss and who expressed their fear that the only African-American name on a building at U-M would be diminished or erased," the newspaper quoted Bernstein, who is chair and managing partner of a Michigan law firm, as saying. "There are hundreds of buildings on this campus, and only one, Trotter, honors the name of an African-American. This is wrong. … We did not want to silence Trotter -- this one, lonely African-American voice on our campus. This was, of course, not our intention, but it could have been the result."

The new building is planned to total about 20,000 square feet and open in 2018 at a cost of $10 million. Its construction was included in demands from the university's Black Student Union during 2014 protests -- the university's current center has been criticized as being run-down and located away from Michigan's core campus, while the new facility is planned for a more central location. A Michigan spokesman said the project will move forward, although sources of replacement funding are unclear. The Trotter Center's name is now set to remain as it is today.

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