Michigan Sets Principles for Renaming Buildings

January 25, 2017

The University of Michigan has adopted a series of principles to guide officials when there are requests to rename buildings. The announcement stressed that these were general principles and not a checklist. The principles relate to pedagogy, interpretation, consistency and commitment. Some of the principles suggest a high bar for renaming buildings. One principle states, "In general, the university community makes a significant commitment to an individual or a family when it names a space after a person. This applies both to spaces named for donors and for others. In some cases involving donors, this naming is regulated by a binding legal agreement."

But the principles also note changing understandings of history. Says another principle, "The exciting and important thing about the study of history is that both the materials for and the understanding of the past are constantly changing. At a research university, historical scholars must lead the way in producing these new historical discoveries and interpretations. If these new understandings, from time to time, produce controversy over space names, that is not an unnatural thing."

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