Renaming committee seeks input from university community

Members of the Advisory Committee on Renaming Principles have drafted recommendations for how Stanford should approach the process of reconsidering the name of a building or site, including the principles involved, the procedure to be followed and the factors to be considered.

Members of the committee considering principles to be invoked in reconsideration of historical names for Stanford buildings and sites are seeking input from the campus community.

The Advisory Committee on Renaming Principles, appointed by President Marc Tessier-Lavigne in January, has drafted its recommendations and now is looking for guidance from members of the campus community. The recommendations have been posted to the committee’s website, which also includes a form through which feedback can be offered over the next two weeks.

On Tuesday, March 6, the committee will host a campus community meeting to further discuss its recommendations at 7 p.m. in the Oak Lounge of Tresidder Memorial Union.

The committee, comprising faculty, students, trustees and staff, is chaired by Paul Brest, professor emeritus and former dean of Stanford Law School. The president plans to appoint a second committee to apply the resulting principles to the case of Junipero Serra, the 18th-century priest who established the California mission network. Some students and others have requested that the university rename streets and buildings named for Serra.

In their draft recommendations, committee members outline how the process of reconsidering the name of a building or site should be initiated and the factors to be considered, including any harm caused by retaining the name and any harm of renaming.

In its introduction, the committee also outlined proposed overriding principles for renaming in general, noting that the university’s “commitment to the search of truth” benefits from “examining even its own long-established values and traditions.” Committee members recommend that the university consider renaming “when there is strong evidence that retaining the name is inconsistent with the university’s integrity or is harmful to its research and teaching missions and inclusiveness.”

The committee cautions against “too-ready renaming,” noting that “historical evidence is typically complex and often ambiguous.” Committee members also caution that renaming should not “inhibit research or otherwise restrict free and open inquiry.” In addition, decision makers should be mindful that a name selected today may become controversial in the future. The process of renaming, they believe, requires “considerable time and effort.”

Committee members recommend that the process for reconsidering names of campus features begin with the president, either on his or her own initiative or in response to requests submitted by members of the Stanford community. Requests for reconsideration, they believe, should be well considered and stress, for instance, how specific behaviors of the historic figure might violate the university’s mission and core principles, the source and strength of the evidence, and the harm that the continued use of the name inflicts.

The critical question to be answered in reconsideration, they believe, is whether the person for whom a feature is named exhibited behavior that “compromises the university’s mission, including both its commitment to intellectual integrity and its commitment to diversity and inclusion of all members of the Stanford community.”

Among the relevant factors committee members believe should be considered are:

  • Behavior especially deserving of honor
  • Centrality of the person’s offensive behavior to his or her life as a whole
  • Relation of the historic figure to the university community
  • The university’s prior consideration of the issues
  • Harmful impact of the honoree’s behavior
  • Community identification with the feature
  • Strength and clarity of the historical evidence
  • Possibilities for mitigation

In their deliberations, members of the committee indicated that they consulted the experiences of Princeton, which recently considered the legacy of Woodrow Wilson in relation to the university, and Yale, which studied alumnus John Calhoun’s public advocacy of slavery.