The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
Following many requests from the campus community, the President’s Advisory Committee on University History released a preliminary report on April 27 recommending the removal of Fielding H. Yost’s name from the Yost Ice Arena.
Yost played football during his time as a student at West Virginia University and went on to serve as the head football coach at six different universities, bringing him to the University of Michigan. Yost was the University’s head football coach from 1901-23 and again from 1925-26, and he served as the University’s athletic director from 1921-41. Yost was known for his “point-a-minute” teams and led the Michigan football team to six national championships and ten Big 10 conference titles. In 1923, the University named the Field House after Yost, and in 1973, it was remodeled into the Yost Ice Arena.
The President’s Advisory Committee’s recent report asserts that Fielding H. Yost’s contributions to U-M athletics have historically been emphasized while the “profoundly deep and negative impact he had on people of color” has not been equally acknowledged.
“Some who read this report will wonder if we are ‘blaming’ Yost for simply being a ‘man of his time,’” the report reads. “We reject this view because our historical analysis reveals that Yost — and others at the University in his day — had choices to make and evidence from their own times indicating the right ones.”
The committee specifically cites Yost’s involvement in an infamous incident in 1934 — while he served as Athletic Director — when the U-M football team chose to bench Willis Ward, the 1933 Big Ten Athlete of the Year and only the second Black U-M football player , in a game against Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech refused to play against the University’s team in Michigan Stadium if a Black player was allowed to play, so Yost decided to keep Ward from playing and met Georgia Tech on the field with an all-white team.
In the Historical Analysis section of the report, the committee said Yost scheduled the game against Georgia Tech despite being well aware of the traditional racist rules that Georgia would expect the University to adhere to. The report also suggested that Yost was responsible for maintaining a “color line” in U-M athletic programs during his career at Michigan. It noted that Ward was the only African American athlete to receive a varsity football letter during Yost’s 40-year tenure as head football coach and athletic director.
University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily that the committee’s report was issued and made available for public comment after a year of investigating how the Ward incident and the rest of Yost’s career has impacted the campus community.
“In 2020, multiple requests to remove the honorific name of Fielding H. Yost from the ice arena were received and referred to the President’s Advisory Committee on University History for review,” Broekhuizen wrote. “The committee’s preliminary recommendation comes after a year of study by the panel of university historians.”
The committee invited members of the University community to provide feedback on their preliminary recommendation by June 7 using an online portal which requires a U-M email address.
The feedback the committee receives will be shared with University President Mark Schlissel, who will then be able to use it to accept, reject or modify the original recommendation. However, ultimately, any final decisions regarding whether or not to implement the recommendation must be made by the Board of Regents. A source close to the board said the name is unlikely to ultimately change.
LSA sophomore Alexander Nguyen said he thinks the recommendation to remove Yost’s name shows a “positive improvement” in the University’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).
“In the past years, U-M has been very slow and/or hesitant to take actions like this,” Nguyen said. “I’m glad to see that the school is beginning to take POC communities and feelings into account. Although U-M may not be perfect in its approach to DEI, they have definitely begun to take the right steps towards it.”
LSA senior Vincent Pinti said he believes people should be properly vetted prior to being honored on buildings and landmarks. Pinti said when it comes to the removal of historic names from buildings at the University, constructive conversations are necessary to determine whether to remove a building’s name and its possible replacement name.
“Calls for changes to building names, team names, iconography or monument removals are quite common in this day and age, but just because they are common does not mean that they are always necessary,” Pinti said. “We need to leave ample time for debate and consideration of the person and their full story when selecting an honoree title for a building at the University.”
Additionally, Pinti said many students and faculty may not be familiar with the histories behind the individuals whose names are emblazoned on buildings across campus. Ideally, Pinti said, the University should find a way to educate the campus community on these important figures. Pinti also said it is important to consider the historical and social context of the time during which the University was founded and when each building was named. The names may represent the views of the campus community at a certain time in the University’s history, which may not be consistent with prevalent perspectives on campus today.
“Angell, Mason, Yost, etc. are all the surnames of individuals who have in some way made a major contribution to the University,” Pinti said. “I don’t know much about many of the individuals, but they were no doubt at least somewhat representative of the popular, yet horrific, views of their time. I think the University is doing the right thing trying to incorporate as many individuals as possible in this conversation.”
A previous Daily investigation found that only one out of 103 eligible buildings is named after a person of color. Additionally, many of these individuals were donors, alumni or important University figures, and some, much like Yost, have controversial, racist pasts that could come into question. The Kellogg Eye Center was named for W.K Kellogg, who was a known eugenicist and believed in “racial purity” in America. James Angell, the namesake of Angell Hall, helped influence the creation of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited the immigration of Chinese Workers.
Daily Staff Reporter Isabelle Regent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.