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Committee Sets Framework for Renaming Controversial Harvard Buildings, Titles

Protesters in 2019 held a rally urging Harvard to remove Arthur M. Sackler's name from University buildings, arguing that the late medicine marketer is complicit in the opioid epidemic.
Protesters in 2019 held a rally urging Harvard to remove Arthur M. Sackler's name from University buildings, arguing that the late medicine marketer is complicit in the opioid epidemic. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Kelsey J. Griffin, Crimson Staff Writer

The committee charged with determining when Harvard should remove the names or representations of individuals from its buildings, programs, and professorships released a final report Thursday recommending a “careful, painstaking, and laborious” process for making denaming decisions.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow created the Committee to Articulate Principles on Renaming in fall 2020 in response to criticisms about certain historical figures whose names or portraits were honored across campus. The group aimed to answer when past advocacy for “activities that many members of our community would today find abhorrent” warrants removal of such recognitions.

Chaired by former University President Drew G. Faust, the committee included administrators, faculty, students, and alumni from several of Harvard’s schools. Its final report set out a framework for considering denaming requests grounded “in historical inquiry.”

“As we consider removing names, we should examine these lives with humility, recognizing that our own ideas and behavior may one day be looked upon with dismay by generations to come,” the report reads.

The report also called for the University to ensure the time and resources it dedicates to the question of names and tributes to historical figures do not detract from other substantive work.

“As we act in more self-conscious ways about the names that help to define our community, we must also recognize that such consideration represents just one dimension of a necessarily broader institutional commitment to confronting inequity and exclusion,” it reads.

Per the report’s recommendations, requests for denaming University entities should be submitted to the dean of the relevant school. If the Dean chooses to proceed, they will consult the University president, who will decide whether the request should be handled on a school or University level.

“Schools will have broad latitude to develop approaches that suit their Schools and the circumstances of particular requests,” Bacow wrote in an email to affiliates Thursday.

The strongest cases for demanding or removal will demonstrate that recognizing the individual in question “creates a harmful environment that undermines the ability of current students, faculty, or staff to participate fully in the work of the University,” the report reads.

Reviews of removal requests will also examine if the entity in question plays a central role in the identity or experience of Harvard students, staff, or faculty and whether the addition of “plaques, performances, and portraiture” could instead provide missing context.

“We should approach our history through reckoning, not forgetting,” the committee wrote.

—Staff writer Kelsey J. Griffin can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @kelseyjgriffin.

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