Historian criticizes use of ‘present values’ to cancel former professor’s name
Moses Hall at the University of California Berkeley will no longer be named for Bernard Moses, after activists led a campaign to get him canceled for his views.
The campus Building Name Review Committee approved the “Proposal to Un-name Moses Hall” put together by students and a professor. Moses (pictured) worked at the university between 1875 to 1911 and created the university’s political science department. However, his views were “at odds with the present values of the UC Berkeley community,” according to the proposal.
Renaming efforts will continue, according to a representative of the committee that oversees requests to remove names.
“Both the Building Name Review Committee and Chancellor [Carol] Christ have recommended that Bernard Moses’ name…be removed from campus features such as an adjacent parking lot and programs such as the Bernard Moses Memorial Lecture,” graduate student Alex Mabanta told The College Fix via email. Mabanta is on the name review committee.
Moses is accused of having “racist and colonialist” views, according to the proposal. “It was understood that the Indians, like all savages, lacked the habit of consecutive work, and that compulsion would be necessary to make them persistent laborer,” Moses once wrote. “The Spanish-negro union might produce only a member of a subject class,” he also wrote, as cited in the proposal.
In January 2020, Boalt Hall, named after John Henry Boalt, was removed, marking the first of five buildings to become unnamed due to the perceived offensive history of its namesakes. John Henry Boalt was a key player in the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
Mabanta expressed urgency in continued efforts to remove the Boalt name from campus, “There is still unfinished business,” Mabanta told The Fix. “Even at Berkeley Law School, the name ‘Boalt’ appears in dozens of places inside and outside the main law building. UC Berkeley must act with greater urgency to execute campus commitments both to unnaming and to acknowledging the campus’ past for the present and future.”
The graduate student did not directly answer a question from The Fix about how to balance someone’s historical achievements with their views or actions that are now deemed unacceptable by modern society. He said there the naming committee will continue to review individuals for possible cancellation. “The committee has recommended that the campus create and provide a budget for a working group of faculty, staff, and students to develop a restorative justice plan,” Mabanta said.
This plan will help the university “reckon with the legacy of namesakes of all unnamed buildings, such as developing murals, exhibits, and university-sponsored programs.”
Professor Milan Mosse, who helped write the proposal, declined to comment on similar questions from The Fix.
Alva Noë, the university’s philosophy chair, called the removal “an act of affirmation of the values of love and respect that are today the guiding principles of life here at the university,” according to a university news release.
One historian criticized the university’s efforts in comments to The Fix.
“Sadly, it seems that these professors have been trained in the latter-day academic tasks of deconstructing texts, that is, tearing apart writings and zeroing in on offensive trigger words,” Mary Grabar told The Fix via email. “Any sixth grader could do that.”
“Will his books now also be banned from classrooms and libraries? Will students and others be denied the opportunity to review his scholarship and learn from it,” she asked.
She also questioned the fluidity of the present values of the UC Berkeley community,
“Does everyone speak with one voice at Berkeley? When were these ‘present values’ determined? This year? Last year? Ten years ago?” Grabar said.
“Indeed, ‘present values’ means that they change with the times. The committee members better watch out. They too may become unnamed or unpersoned,” Grabar said.
IMAGES: Public domain; UC-Berkeley