University Regents discuss CC Little and Winchell House renaming, LEO negotiations and building projects

Thursday, March 29, 2018 - 6:21pm

The University of Michigan Board of Regents voted to remove the name of the C.C. Little Science Building Thursday afternoon.

The University of Michigan Board of Regents voted to remove the name of the C.C. Little Science Building Thursday afternoon. Buy this photo
Alexis Rankin/Daily

The  Lecturers’ Employee Organization filled the room of The University of Michigan Board of Regents March meeting,  as the board voted to remove the names of the C.C. Little Science Building and West Quad Residence Hall’s Winchell House on Thursday afternoon. Before the meeting, LEO hosted a grade-in with around 75 lecturers packing the lobby of the Michigan Union and their assembly did not go unnoticed, with several regents responding to their calls for higher wages and greater benefits during the meeting.

The meeting room had about 40 people in attendance with additional overflow congregating in a separate viewing room. Regents Michael Behm, D, Shauna Ryder Diggs, D, and Denise Ilitch, D, attended the meeting by telephone.

C.C. Little and Winchell House renaming

The calls from the student body and faculty to remove the names of problematic figures from the C.C. Little building and Winchell House have carried on for years, with recent protests and forums bringing the issue to the forefront of campus conversation.

After two separate petitions to rename the buildings were proposed last year, the President’s Advisory Committee on University History began its deliberations on the figures the buildings were named after, diving into primary documents and weighing the impact these figures on current students.

Little, a former president of the University, was a strong supporter of the eugenics movement, perpetuating the ideology of removing “unwanted traits” from the gene pool through ethnic quotas and anti-immigration legislation. He was also a large supporter of the tobacco industry, which the committee found to be in opposition for a building dedicated to the sciences.

Alexander Winchell, a regent and geology professor in the late 1800s, was found to have published racist academic papers, maintaining white people are physiologically pre-dispositioned to be the superior race. In the document from University President Mark Schlissel supporting Winchell’s name to be removed from West Quad, the Committee found his novel “Preadamites: Or a Demonstration of the Existence of Men Before Adam” to be incredibly dangerous and utilized today by white supremacist groups.

“(Preadamites) was unambiguously racist and ‘out of step with the University's own aspirations in those times as well,’” Schlissel’s response read. “According to the committee, portions of this book continue to be used today to support White supremacist views, thereby amplifying the negative contemporary effect of the Winchell naming, especially on ‘the actual building of communities’ that we should aspire to in our residential housing.”

Last Monday, Schlissel announced he agreed with the committee’s findings and asked the board to remove the names from the building and hall.

During his opening statements, Schlissel urged the board to vote yes on his proposals to rename the buildings. However, he echoed his sentiments from his interview with The Daily last Monday, saying further building name changes should not be expected anytime soon after these two.

“Under our review principles, those who wish to change formally designated names of spaces or buildings carry a heavy burden to justify the removal of a name and that this should be a rare event,” Schlissel said. “I believe that the burden has been met in these two instances.”

Schlissel then invited Terrence McDonald, the chair of the President’s Advisory Committee on University History, to present the committee’s findings and express his support for the renaming. McDonald, a history professor and the director of the Bentley Historical Library, said the committee operates on the understanding that the decision to name a building is a conscious one and removing said name does not eliminate the history from existing.

“We believe, first and foremost, that we are all wedded to the University’s past with all that is uplifting and troubling within it and we must understand and remember it but we believe equally, second, that historical memory and historical commemoration are not the same thing,” McDonald said. “Changing the name of a space does not change or erase our history. It revises a previous decision to commemorate something in that history.”

Prior to the vote, Public Policy junior Kevin Sweitzer, who submitted the proposal to rename Winchell House, spoke during public comments on agenda-related topics. He said this process of submitting the request was worth it to see another, more respectable individual be honored with the space in the future.

“At my time at the University, I have grown a lot as a person and when I learned that we still honor Alexander Winchell, who is an objectively wrong person in science and philosophy, I was astounded and it caused me to bring forward the petition,” Sweitzer said. “This University has taught me a lot and I firmly believe the right decision will be made today to vote to rename the space in West Quad and honor someone who is worthy of our support moving forward.”

LSA senior Joshua Hasler, one of the members of the group who proposed the C.C. Little building name change, also spoke and said Little’s work with eugenics supports causes such as the “alt-right” and the white supremacist Richard Spencer, whose ideology calls for a “white ethno-state.” Hasler said this cannot be an ideology the University supports.

“Little was no tepid supporter of American eugenics,” Hasler said. “He believed it was an essential part of human progress. It is especially important to rename the C.C. Little Science building now given the renewed prominence of xenophobic and eugenic policies and ideas in American political discourse … The University of Michigan must demonstrate that it does not celebrate the ideals of White supremacy and eugenics by commemorating the legacy of this movement and its campus geography.”

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman, R, echoed Schlissel’s and McDonald’s comments from earlier, reiterating the difficulty that should come with changing a building’s name but acknowledging the University should always work to right their wrongs.

“Changing historical names should be difficult,” Newman said. “Doing the right thing, though, shouldn’t be difficult.”

Newman also addressed a concern about University culture before voting, mentioning the University population’s current usage of C.C. Little’s name to identify the Central Campus Transit Center. She said she believed it was important to “change the student vernacular” in regard to the bus stop as a part of the vote.

After hearing the opinion of public comment speakers and Newman’s comments, the Board of Regents voted unanimously to remove the names from the C.C. Little Science Building and Winchell House.

Not even an hour after the vote, the sign outside the former C.C. Little Science Building read, “1100 North University Building,” a temporary name outlined in Schlissel’s proposal. There is no word on when or how new names for the building and hall will be selected but the conversations and suggestions are sure to follow in the coming weeks.

LEO Bargaining Efforts

Before the regents meeting began, LEO organizers and supporters filled the Union to show their support for the contract bargaining efforts of University lecturers.

LEO started conversations with the administration for increased salaries and benefits in October of last year. Currently, the salary for a full-time lecturer at the University is $34,500 in Ann Arbor, $28,300 in Dearborn and $27,300 in Flint. The administration had initially responded to LEO’s demands with a $1,000 increase to the starting salary in 2019, a $750 increase in 2020, a $500 increase in 2021 and a 1.5 percent annual raise for Ann Arbor alone. LEO lecturers, however, were unsatisfied with the numbers, and referred to the proposal as “insulting.”

Prior to the meeting, Philip A. Christman, a lecturer in the University’s English Department, explained the administration's reluctance to meet the group’s requests was frustrating because they could meet LEO’s needs without causing much financial burden on the University.

“I think the word insulting is most appropriate,” Christman said. “It’s not like we haven’t given them a ton of information. We hired a guy to audit the University’s books to show not only that we’re getting a very, very small percentage of the revenue that we generate for the University but that the University could easily meet our demands without really breaking a sweat.”

Christman also addressed some students’ concern about an increase in lecturer salaries impacting the amount of tuition. However, LEO’s auditing efforts of University funds shows students would not have to pay more if their demands were met.

“Students will ask me, with good reason, ‘Can the University meet your demands without raising tuition on us?’” Christman said. “I personally don’t want a raise if it means another tuition hike, there’s been enough, but that’s not what is at stake, and we’ve shown that to the University.”

As LEO lecturers come near their contract expiration date on April 20, they have authorized a potential vote for a strike if the administration does not adequately respond to their demands. Alex Elkins, LEO lecturer and organizer, remarked that of the 54 percent of LEO membership who responded to an online survey about the decision to strike if needs were not met, 78 percent of individuals voted yes.

“Our membership are clearly engaged in the process and discontent with the current paces and progress of negotiations and are hoping to move forward with walkouts should negotiations not make any progress,” Elkins said.

However, while a strike is a possibility, Christman admitted he, along with other lecturers, did not want the situation to result in walkouts.

“(The administration’s) last counteroffer on salary was just insulting,” Christman said. “I think the most important development is that, and it’s a development none of us are too happy about, but we have been authorized by our membership to call a strike if the University doesn’t move significantly. We don’t want to do that but the way is pretty clear for us to do that if we have to.”

During the public comments portion of the meeting, LEO lecturers and supporters had an opportunity to express their wishes for increased wages to the board. After Víctor Rodríguez-Pereira, a lecturer in the Romance Languages and Literatures Department, outlined his three jobs as a full-time lecturer, barista and tutor, he expressed his frustration with his current salary from the University.

“When someone greets me with an enthusiastic ‘Go Blue’ I can relate, I do go blue,” Rodríguez-Pereira said. “I go blue when I look at my paystubs, and I go blue when I think about my first two years here when I had to eat all of my meals on the floor because I couldn’t even afford a couch. I go blue when I think of last summer, when I lived under the impending fear of eviction because I couldn’t keep up with my rent, and before anyone forgets, again, I work three jobs.”

U-M Dearborn Lecturer Aurora Harris echoed Rodríguez-Pereira’s sentiments and explained how in January, she essentially broke even.

“In January 2018, I received a paycheck of $1,051.89,” Harris said. “What was deposited into my account after taxes was $691.18. Because I am now below half-time teaching stats, the medical benefits papers I receive said the insurance that I have last semester would cost me $695 which would mean I would be working for $0.”

After three lecturers took the podium, Regent Mark Bernstein, D, voiced his support and solidarity with LEO. He acknowledged the University’s unfair treatment of the lecturers and explained underpayment of lecturers was an issue present across the nation.

“One cannot hear these comments, or look at the facts, and not be moved to action,” Bernstein said. “That’s why I want to declare publicly and very proudly solidarity with our lecturers in Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn. Let me be clear, I believe that our lecturers are being exploited, and we are not an exception, this is happening across higher education, it’s a systemic issue.”

Bernstein pointed out teachers with similar qualifications at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, make a reported $52,000, and their students do not pay tuition. He also said while board meetings consist of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on renovations, and new buildings, it was important the administration invested in the lecturers as well.

“We don’t hesitate to invest in these buildings, but we also shouldn’t hesitate when it comes to our people,” Bernstein said. “It’s time to invest in our lecturers with the same enthusiasm we apply to other varying forms of priorities.”

Newman also spoke in support of LEO’s efforts and praised them for their organized and well-communicated efforts.

“I want to commend the members of LEO, especially those that have reached out to all of us, the regents and others around this table to educate us on your concerns and on what is going on,” Newman said. “I can’t think of another occasion where the communication and the facts have been as well presented as you all have done, you have really put this on a table in a thoughtful, collaborative way. You’ve presented evidence, you’ve presented numbers and you’ve given us the opportunity to engage and think about this thoughtfully.”

Investments on Current Campus Buildings

Several projects to invest and expand on-campus buildings were also brought forward during the meeting. The board authorized the commission of the architecture firm HOK Group Inc. to begin designing the new Michigan Medicine Clinical Inpatient Tower. The tower, which would reside on the main medical campus, would include up to 264 beds and 23 surgical/interventional radiology suites in order to meet high demand of patients.

Also, with the tower addition comes the renaming of Michigan Medicine’s Comprehensive Cancer Center to the Rogel Cancer Center after Richard and Susan Rogel donated $150 million to the center in order to improve cancer research and medical innovation. The Rogels’s donation is the largest gift ever to Michigan Medicine and one of the largest in the University’s history.

Jerry May, vice president for development, praised the Rogels for their support and enthusiasm towards the University and highlighted their achievements and involvements within specific programs at the University.

“I think everybody knows that Rich and Susan are the people that are about as enthusiastic as they come,” May said. “This will bring their giving, after their first gift in 1975, to 188.5 million dollars to this institution … They’re a classic example of what happens when you engage people in the things they’re interested in. They’ve now given to 17 different areas of the University.”

Following approval of the renaming, regents posed for a picture holding T-shirts that read “Rogel Cancer Center.”

The board also approved designs for a renovation project that will occur at the School of Dentistry. Estimated at $140 million, the project will renovate 176,000 square feet of the W.K. Kellogg Institute and the Dental Building, which were built in 1940 and 1969, respectively. Included in the renovation is an addition of 48,000 square feet and design to improve accessibility for patients as well as an upgrade to modern teaching and research facilities.

Furthermore, the board approved proceeding with a project to complete exterior enhancements on the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. The estimated cost is $9.3 million and will include the installation of glass and metal panels, as well as an addition of stone and terracotta on several structures. The project is funded by a donation from Stephen M. Ross, who has come under fire recently for the Detroit Free Press’s report on the University allegedly using endowment funds to invest in the firms of its largest donors, with Ross being one of them.

Jill Lerner, a principal at Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, PC, the architectural firm presenting the project, explained the renovations and presented before and after pictures of the renovation.

“By adding the glass, it will really unify the project to relate to what was done in the first phase of the project, so that the whole campus will be unified, which is the goal of the project,” Lerner said.