Professor who organized petition criticizes university president for taking credit
Columbia University recently announced that it will soon rename a residence hall named for Samuel Bard, the medical school’s founder, because he was a slave owner.
The Ivy League university in New York City announced its decision on August 28.
“Of course, we cannot, indeed should not, erase Samuel Bard’s contributions to the medical school,” Columbia University’s President Lee Bollinger said in the statement. “But we must not recall this history without also recognizing the reason for our decision to rename Bard Hall.”
The residence hall houses medical students.
The decision comes after a change.org petition organized by a Columbia professor garnered over 1,000 signatures.
“No University can claim it values Black lives while forcing Black students to live in a building named for a slaveowner,” the June petition organized by Raymond Givens, a black professor in the med school, said.
The petition also demanded the renaming of a professorship named for Bard.
A medical school professor wrote on a university blog on September 1 that the professorship has been eliminated. Givens told The College Fix over Twitter messaging that the professorship has been retired and no longer exists.
Givens told The Fix that he “decided to act after being on the frontlines against COVID-19 and watching George Floyd’s murder.”
The assistant professor of medicine criticized Bollinger for waiting to make this decision.
“Bollinger received the preliminary report from the Columbia and Slavery Project in 2015 but had taken no action about any of the findings,” Givens told The College Fix. “In late June I began making forceful requests for Bard Hall to be renamed. There was no process before that.”
The professor further criticized Bollinger for refusing to communicate with him on the issue. He said that this is presumably meant “to preserve the narrative that they have been working on this all along.”
“I would contend that Bollinger’s self-focused announcement of the renaming, which again based on my identity as a descendant of enslaved people, is frankly theft,” he said.
Givens said that “changing building names is not my agenda” in response to a question from The College Fix about future targets.
“I targeted Bard Hall out of my anguish and grief from fighting COVID-19 and from George Floyd’s murder,” Givens said. He said he waited to raise the issue because of “fear of harming my career.”
He put his decision in the broader context of supporting his son:
I pushed to rename Bard Hall for my son and so that Black students and staff don’t have to continue living and working in a building that honors a slaver. I’m certain most of them have parents like my mother who never wanted them to face that kind of humiliation. We can debate whether controversial monuments should be removed or buildings renamed but I would argue that universities are a special case. How does an institution ask Black students to pay to live in a building named for someone who would have seen them as property? But my focus isn’t on changing building names. My focus is on changing a system that would make someone too fearful to speak up for their child or on their own behalf.
The College Fix reached out to Columbia University via email for further comment and was directed to President Bollinger’s statement.
The university did not respond to a question from The College Fix about the Givens’ claims concerning the motivation and timeline for renaming the building.
The university asked Ira Katznelson, its provost, to create a task force to “consider campus names and symbols associated with matters of race and racism” in June, according to Bollinger’s statement.
In July, the Teachers College at the school voted to remove the name of psychologist Edward Thorndike from one of its buildings. Thorndike, a Columbia graduate, came under fire for his support for eugenics.
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