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U of M explores rechristening buildings named for racist leaders

ST. PAUL—Several University of Minnesota buildings soon could get new names as leaders confront the school's racist history.

President Eric Kaler this week called for a new task force composed of faculty, staff and students to bring him specific recommendations for name changes by Nov. 15.

That group will pick up on the work of a committee Kaler convened last September to "guide our thinking about appropriate modern responses to historical issues on our campuses."

A library exhibit highlighting discriminatory housing practices on campus inspired the look back.

The Minnesota Student Association passed a resolution in March asking that the university rechristen the Minneapolis student union, which was named for Lotus Coffman, president from 1920-1938. The group cited Coffman's refusal to allow black students to live at the all-white Pioneer Hall at a time when discriminatory housing was both illegal and uncommon at northern universities.

The resolution identified three additional building namesakes — President Walter Coffey, Comptroller William Middlebrook and Dean of Student Affairs Edward Nicholson — as enforcers of anti-Semitic and racist practices.

Building names at the university's campuses in Duluth, Morris, Crookston and Rochester also will be reviewed.

Regent Abdul Omari said during a board meeting on Friday, Sept. 14, that he was disappointed Kaler was appointing a second task force.

"I was hoping you would have made a bold stance on this topic by now," he said.

Kaler acknowledged his deliberate pace.

"I am trying to find a space and a way for the larger community to carefully consider and weigh in on what is really an important — as far as I know, we've never renamed a building in 162 years of history. So, I am being cautious ... but we will get there," he said.

Regents Chairman David McMillan said they need time to make sure they handle a difficult and complex topic well.

"It is an equally high priority for me," he said.