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A group of University of Michigan professors and a student submitted an official request Friday afternoon to change the name of the C.C. Little building. The group, led by History professor John Carson, created an online petition for campus community members to back the case.
“This is the among the first powerful test cases of whether this process will allow us to productively debate the merits of renaming requests, and whether it will prove to be a mechanism for institutional change,” the petition reads.
As of Saturday morning, the petition has seven signatures — including those of LSA Associate Dean Angela Dillard and LSA Student Government President Nicholas Fadanelli, an LSA senior — with a goal of 10,000 by Nov. 1.
Little’s namesake building has provoked muted controversy for years: A former University president, he also served as president of the American Eugenics Society, and supported the sterilization of “unfit” people—though many students are unaware of his contentious history.
The proposal group comprises Carson, History professors Matthew Countryman and Martin Pernick, American Culture professor Alexandra Stern and LSA senior Joshua Hasler, who attempted to span the breadth of issues presented by the renaming. When the University unrolled a new building renaming policy in January, these faculty members turned to the building bearing Little’s name first, convening a panel in April on the nuances of renaming. All the cosigners to the case, including Stern, spoke at the April event.
“We’re going to think about the arguments for removing his name and what are some of the arguments for retaining his name,” she said. “There is a high bar for renaming. If we just take his name off the building, we erase the past.”
The policy approved by University President Mark Schlissel — crafted by the President’s Advisory Committee on University History — lays out several guiding principles with which the committee may evaluate renaming proposals, such as pedagogy, interpretation, due diligence and consistency. In their proposal cover letter, the group questioned the policy’s burden of proof and research upon the proposal’s submitters
“It is our sense that most groups of students, in particular, would not have the wherewithal (or even the time) to engage in the level of research that our attached document represents,” it reads. “And so we respectfully suggest that the process be reimagined.”
A University statement released upon the new policy’s approval affirmed the “intentionally ‘heavy burden’ on those who wish to change a formally designated name of a building or other space.”
The policy came after a wave of renamings and rededications of buildings on college campuses across the country in 2016; institutions including Yale and Georgetown went through public reckonings of their schools’ histories with slavery and racism. This summer, the University of Texas and the University of North Carolina removed statues of Confederate generals on campus in the aftermath of white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Va.
Hasler wrote his honors thesis on Little, and said in April he was shocked to discover Little’s dubious legacy.
“We need to ask ourselves: Regardless of the faculty who reside in this building, is C.C. Little a president whose legacy — specifically relating to what he did for the University of Michigan during his tenure — is something that we want to institutionalize?” Hasler said.