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USM looks to revise policy on how to rename buildings, programs

Byrd Stadium at the University of Maryland, shown in 2009, was renamed Maryland Stadium after petitioners complained in 2015 that the former university president after whom it was named was a staunch segregationist.(AP File Photo/Nick Wass)

Byrd Stadium at the University of Maryland, shown in 2009, was renamed Maryland Stadium after petitioners complained in 2015 that the former university president after whom it was named was a staunch segregationist. (AP File Photo/Nick Wass)

This past summer, numerous institutions across America renamed facilities and programs named for Confederate leaders, racist politicians and other controversial figures. Now, the University System of Maryland has introduced revisions to its naming policy that expands the section on removing and changing names from one paragraph to over three pages.

The revised policy, which includes an appendix describing how institutions can initiate the renaming process, “are intended to provide deliberative and thoughtful parameters for USM institutions as they seek to name spaces or programs or if they need to revisit a particular naming.”

Calls to rename buildings are nothing new to the university system. In 2015, students at the University of Maryland advocated for changing the name of what was then Byrd Stadium, named after former university President Harry C. “Curley” Byrd, because of his staunch segregationist beliefs. The Board of Regents later voted to change the name to Maryland Stadium.

More recently, nearly 3,000 Towson University students signed a petition in February asking for two dorms named after slaveholders — Paca House and Carroll Hall — to be renamed. In July, UMBC’s student newspaper published an editorial criticizing the name of the Columbus Center, a USM research facility in the Inner Harbor, following a protest in which the crowd tore down Baltimore’s Christopher Columbus statue.

The revised policy’s appendix describes how students, staff, faculty or alumni who wish to request a name removal may do so, a process that involves drafting a letter and gathering signatures. The appendix also lists guidelines for what steps the institution’s president must take after receiving such a request.

Though the policy already included a section on removing names, the proposed revisions include a clause regarding “Controversial or Changed Circumstances.” This section notes that a facility’s or program’s name can be changed “if a previously approved naming violates the standards or values of the USM and its constituent institutions, compromises the public trust or reputation of an institution, or is contrary to applicable law.”  

This new clause also notes that these name changes should be “rare,” and that the rationale for them must be both “well-researched” and “compelling.” 

Another proposed revision would require that all USM institutions have their own naming policies for items not covered by the USM’s naming policy, such as spaces within buildings and certain small landscape features.

The final revision increases the scrutiny that institutions must employ when proposing new names, adding a clause that proposals of new facility and program names must include “a detailed report demonstrating that the namesake’s background has been thoroughly considered.”

The Board of Regents will vote on the revisions at its next meeting on Nov. 13.


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