President Marc Tessier-Lavigne has accepted the recommendations of the committee he appointed in January to consider principles to be invoked in reconsideration of historical names for Stanford buildings and sites.

As a result, going forward, the university will consider renaming features of the university “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.”

“I am grateful to the advisory committee for addressing these important issues so thoughtfully and expeditiously, informed by input from the broader university community,” said Tessier-Lavigne.

“The principles developed by the committee provide a cogent framework for evaluating requests to rename university buildings and sites. A second committee I will appoint shortly will apply these principles to the case of Junipero Serra, and there will again be opportunities for input from members of our university community.”

The Advisory Committee on Renaming Principles, chaired by Paul Brest, professor emeritus and former dean of Stanford Law School, forwarded its recommendations to the campus community for feedback in late February. Members also solicited feedback through a public meeting and via a form on its website.

Committee members received 53 responses, some of which addressed specific examples of controversial namings and others of which suggested, for instance, that historic figures be judged only in the context of the moral standards of their lifetime and that “academic fraud or misconduct” be added as an example of behavior harmful to the university.

“It was a fantastic committee, composed of alumni, trustees, staff, students and faculty, who brought a variety of perspectives, experiences and expertise to the project and approached the work in a problem-solving spirit without any preconceived ideas about the best solutions,” Brest said. “Everyone contributed, everyone listened, everyone learned. The proposed principles were the result of collaboration at its best.”

The next committee appointed by the president will apply the new renaming 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. Although Serra was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 2015, he has been criticized for his treatment of Native Californians and his suppression of indigenous cultures.

As a result of the new renaming process, the critical question to be answered by the Serra committee and any other committees in the future will be 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 that the Serra committee and others in the future will be asked to weigh will be:

  • The harm caused by retaining the name
  • The harm caused by renaming
  • 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
  • Harmful impact of the honoree’s behavior
  • Community identification with the feature
  • Strength and clarity of the historical evidence
  • The university’s prior consideration of the issues
  • Possibilities for mitigation

The principles accepted by the president outline how the process of reconsidering the name of a building or site will be initiated and the factors that will be considered, including any harm caused by retaining the name and any harm of renaming.

Going forward, the process for reconsidering names of campus features will begin with the president, either on his or her own initiative or in response to requests submitted by members of the Stanford community. Critical in consideration of proposed name changes will be 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 nature, depth and extent of the harm that the continued use of the name may inflict.