Descendants of some late University of Minnesota leaders involved in a debate about renaming campus buildings are going on the offensive, saying the process excluded their voices and unfairly maligned their relatives.
On Friday, several university regents echoed those concerns with sharply worded rebukes of the process so far. A majority on the board wants to see more research before its members make a decision about renaming Coffman Memorial Union and three other buildings, said its chairman, David McMillan.
Last week, President Eric Kaler tentatively recommended that the university’s governing board strip the names of the former administrators from campus buildings because they backed policies that segregated student housing or targeted Jews at the U. His proposal seconded the recommendations of a university task force’s 125-page report as well as calls by student leaders to rename Coffman.
Kaler said a key next step would be hearing from families of the former U leaders, in an effort that could set a high-stakes precedent at the U, which has never renamed a building for historical reasons.
Descendants of two former administrators wrote regents in recent days to voice dismay with the renaming process.
Chris Middlebrook, William Middlebrook’s grandson, and other family members had asked repeatedly to meet with the university task force and with Kaler. Middlebrook said they wanted to give his grandfather a voice in what struck them as a trial of his reputation and legacy.
Middlebrook says the family, which has deep ties to the U, landed a meeting with Kaler later this month, but only after the president had weighed in on the renaming issue.
“My grandfather deserved better than this character assassination without any ability for anyone to represent him,” he said.
The push back is totally unexpected, particularly given the fact the name of the largest lake in Minneapolis was recently changed from Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska.