Frequently asked questions on Jordan Hall and the statue of Louis Agassiz

Stanford will rename campus spaces named for David Starr Jordan and relocate statue depicting Louis Agassiz

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and the Board of Trustees approved a campus committee’s recommendation both to remove Jordan’s name from campus spaces and to take steps to make his multifaceted history better known. Stanford also will relocate a statue of Agassiz.

Who were David Starr Jordan and Louis Agassiz?

David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) was a prominent ichthyologist and Stanford’s first president. He made important contributions to the university, including leadership during an early financial crisis and the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake. But he was also a leader in the American eugenics movement, which promoted controlled reproduction based on heritage.

Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) was a renowned scholar of natural history who also promoted polygenism, which holds that human racial groups have different ancestral origins and are unequal. He was a mentor to Jordan but has no significant association with the university.

 

What is the origin of this issue?

The university received requests from the faculty of the Department of Psychology, which is located in Jordan Hall, and the Stanford Eugenics History Project, a group founded by Stanford undergraduate Ben Maldonado, asking that the building be renamed. The Psychology faculty also requested the removal of the statue of Agassiz from the building’s front façade.

 

How was the committee selected?

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne appointed the Advisory Committee on Renaming Jordan Hall and Removing the Statue of Louis Agassiz in July and charged it with delivering recommendations before the beginning of fall quarter. Committee members were charged to represent the best interests of the entire university and be open to multiple perspectives. They were not selected to represent any particular constituencies, but rather to consider issues impartially.

 

What analysis was conducted?

The committee met weekly, engaging in extensive research, from July 17 through Sept. 11, 2020. To make its own independent assessment of the strength and clarity of historical evidence, the committee reviewed relevant historical material and verified information by consulting primary materials. It focused principally and substantially on Jordan’s own writings, examining both published and unpublished materials.

The committee followed principles developed in 2018 to consider the renaming of campus features generally. The principles include such considerations as the strength and clarity of the historical evidence, the person’s role in the university’s history, the centrality of a person’s offensive behavior to the person’s life as a whole and the university community’s identification with the named feature. Then it applied those principles to the requests concerning Jordan and Agassiz and forwarded recommendations to President Tessier-Lavigne.

 

What outreach was conducted?

The committee solicited extensive feedback in order to inform its deliberations and recommendations.

It hosted a Zoom open town hall, which had 206 attendees and more than 20 speakers, and a separate town hall for alumni, with 100 attendees and 18 speakers. It engaged in specific outreach to those who had majored in biology and psychology, the principal departments that have occupied Jordan Hall in the past century; met with biology and psychology faculty and others working in genetics and bioethics; and consulted with several historians working at Stanford on related subjects. And it sought and considered written comments from the community, including 52 comments from the Psychology Diversity Committee and more than 200 comments received through [email protected].

 

What decision has been made?

Although renaming decisions fall under the president’s authority, he brought the recommendations to the Board of Trustees for additional approval because of the historical importance of Jordan to the university.

Acting on that request, the board approved the removal of the Jordan name from Jordan Hall and from other features named for him. It endorsed the removal of the Agassiz statue from its current location and the committee’s recommendation to pursue educational projects to help make Jordan’s complex history better known.

 

What are the next steps regarding the features named for Jordan?

Debra Satz, whose responsibilities as dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences include the Department of Psychology, will institute a process to determine a new name for Jordan Hall, whether it be an individual’s name or a name based on other considerations. Some buildings in the Main Quad are named for individuals, others are named for subjects or disciplines, and some are not named at all. Satz will bring her recommendation to the president and provost.

In the meantime, the university will remove the Jordan Hall lettering from the building as soon as practicable, along with the Agassiz statue, and the building will be referred to by its number in the Main Quad, Building 420.

Tessier-Lavigne will implement the other recommendations from the report, including establishing a process for identifying replacement names for the other features named for Jordan, if needed. The committee noted that Jordan Way, a pathway in the medical center area, has less salience than the other spaces named for Jordan and recommended that its name be changed in the course of normal university planning.

 

Why will the statue be relocated on campus and not removed from public display?

The committee recommended removing the Agassiz statue from Jordan Hall but retaining it elsewhere on campus because of its particular significance in the Stanford community. A prominent example is the iconic imagery showing the statue’s head stuck in concrete after being dislodged in the 1906 earthquake. As a result, the statue also has been used as an educational example demonstrating important principles in rock rheology (the study of the strength of Earth materials).