Ohio University to Remove Slave Owner’s Name From School to Improve ‘Diversity and Inclusion’

December 23, 2019 Updated: December 23, 2019
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A year after a student government voted to strip the name of Charles McMicken from the University of Cincinnati’s (UC) College of Arts and Sciences, the university administration decided not to commemorate the 19th-century slave owner who founded it.

In a message published online and emailed to students, faculty, and staff, UC President Neville Pinto wrote that he recommends the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences be changed to simply “the College of Arts and Sciences.”

“Based on the evidence and rationale set forth in the report, I believe using Charles McMicken’s name in affiliation with the College of Arts and Sciences has significant detrimental effects on the university’s mission and core values,” Pinto wrote, according to The News Record, the university’s student newspaper.

Pinto said in a statement that McMicken’s name will remain, at least for now, on several spaces that commemorate him, including McMicken Hall, McMicken Circle, McMicken Commons, and the “Mick and Mack” statues and cafe on campus. But they will be coupled with “digital displays” that “fully and fairly” put McMicken’s legacies in historical context.

An early 19th-century businessman from Pennsylvania, Charles McMicken bequeathed nearly $1 million in real estate to the City of Cincinnati to found a university “for white boys and girls” when he died in 1858. A later court ruling stated that since people of color were not specifically excluded according to McMicken’s will, the university was open to all.

In his will, McMicken also requested to free his slaves and send them to Liberia, a West African republic founded thanks to the effort of American abolitionists with the mission of transporting freed slaves back to Africa.

The News Record reported that UC’s undergraduate student government voted in January 2018 to support the removal of  McMicken’s name from the College of Arts and Sciences. The resolution prompted Pinto to designate a university-wide working group this January to evaluate whether to retain McMicken’s name.

The working group, in its report released in November, wrote that McMicken’s name “betrays academic values” and “symbolizes the exclusion and unwelcome that African Americans experience in their relationships with UC, and the university’s failure to commit fully to the principles of diversity and inclusion that it professes.”

The group also wrote in its report that the college should guide future decisions about McMicken’s name elsewhere on campus.

The University of Cincinnati’s decision came shortly after George Washington University (GW) created an official task force that focuses on changing buildings names that are potentially offensive to some students. GW’s Student leaders have called for changes to building like Lisner Auditorium, which is named after former trustee Abram Lisner who supported segregation at the theater, and the Cloyd Heck Marvin Center, which is named after the former university president who maintained the university’s segregation policies.