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NMU Board of Trustees to consider name change for science building

University historian Dr. Russ Magnaghi uncovered the association of Luther West to the eugenics movement of the early 1900s, and the NMU West Science building is named for him.
NMU' West Hall
NMU' West Hall(Jerry Tudor WLUC TV6)
Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 2:44 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - One Northern Michigan University (NMU) building may have its name changed soon, following the discovery of more historic information.

In an email sent to the campus community on Wednesday, NMU Interim President Kerri Schuiling said, “I have received emails from some of you regarding Luther West and his association with the national eugenics movement during the early 1900s. Indeed, this is very disturbing history and I agree with those I have heard from that the campus building that bears his name, West Science, needs to be considered for renaming.”

To explain more simply, eugenics is the manipulation of human genes to ensure that certain characteristics persist in the population.

In her letter, Schuiling said that university historian Dr. Russ Magnaghi uncovered the association of Luther West to the eugenics movement of the early 1900s, though she has received several emails on the matter. Currently, the West Science building is named after Luther West.

The specific procedure to recommend a name change to the NMU Board of Trustees is below:

Renaming Due to Conflict

The University reserves the right to withdraw from a naming agreement if the name of an individual or organization, which has been bestowed upon a property, facility or program, comes into disrepute in the University or in the general community.

When conflicts arise related to an existing name, the president will convene a group to consider any proposal to remove a name. That group will collect information related to the decision to name the building, facility, space, program, position or function at the time it was named, the historical societal/legal changes since, the impact on relationships related to the name and/or removing/changing the name. Advice should be given on historical issues. All of these principles shall be considered by the president, who will then make a recommendation to the NMU Board of Trustees.

NMU Building Naming Policy

I have asked Cindy Paavola of the President’s Office to convene a group to consider a recommendation to remove the name Luther West Science from the building and have it renamed, and for that group to also develop any other actions that would be required to take this action. I am also meeting with Brad Canale, CEO of the NMU Foundation, regarding the scholarship bearing this name,” Schuiling said.

She also noted that the residence hall bearing the West name is after long-time Dean of Students Wilbur D. West, not Luther West.

The Board of Trustees has the final authority for the naming of buildings, facilities, spaces, programs and other properties and functions of NMU.

“That said, I have informed our Board of Trustees Chair Tami Seavoy of the formation of the group and that we are following the Renaming Due to Conflict policy,” Schuiling said.

“I am grateful to Dr. Russ Magnaghi, university historian, for his work that uncovered the association of Luther West to the eugenics movement,” Schuiling said to end the letter. “Thank you to all who have emailed me about this matter. I appreciate your concern and support in moving forward on this matter.”

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