Campus News

Progress on naming process

New committee tackles task of bringing clarity to “very mysterious” procedure of bestowing names on buildings.

Composite image of Aycock Residence Hall, Carr Building, Daniels Building and Ruffin Residence Hall
Composite image of Aycock Residence Hall, Carr Building, Daniels Building and Ruffin Residence Hall. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Requirements for putting a new name on a University building should include a rigorous vetting process, consideration of “nontraditional contributions” and input from the community, agreed members of the Ad Hoc Committee on Honorific Naming Policy at their Jan. 20 meeting.

Chair David Routh, vice chancellor for development, presented these concepts as part of a list of consensus items that emerged from small group brainstorming meetings over winter break.

The committee is the latest step in the University’s reconsideration of the names on its buildings. The process included three actions taken by the Board of Trustees last summer: the lifting of a 16-year moratorium on removing names from buildings, the establishment of a name removal policy and the stripping of the names of Charles Brantley Aycock, Julian Shakespeare Carr, Josephus Daniels and Thomas Ruffin Sr. from buildings on campus.

At the creation of the committee, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz tasked its members to come up with a naming process “to reflect our values today” and to bring in “voices from across campus and especially those that have often been ignored.”

The committee’s ambitious timeline is to come up with a revised policy that can be approved by trustees and then used for the first time to christen three nameless campus buildings — Residence Hall One in Lower Quad (formerly Aycock), Student Affairs building (formerly Carr) and UNC Student Stores (formerly Daniels) — by the beginning of the 2021-22 academic year.

Other ideas generated during the committee’s brainstorming sessions included:

  • preference for securing a donation for a philanthropic name before consideration of an honorific name;
  • a “very high bar” for a name selection;
  • consistency with existing naming and name removal policies;
  • permission to include names of groups, lands and ideals;
  • encouragement of the diversification of names, with special attention to underrepresented groups; and
  • requirement that the nominator do the initial research on the person to be honored.

The item that generated the most discussion was a regular review process, a concept borrowed from the University of Virginia’s naming policy. Dean Barbara Rimer of the Gillings School of Global Public Health called a scheduled review of honorific names “a preventive strategy,” but others said it might lead to more problems.

“We don’t want to send a message that we’re on this merry-go-round, and it’s going to come up every year or every five years,” said former University trustee Julia Grumbles.

High profile buildings, like residence halls, will require more care in the naming process, committee members agreed.

Student representative Kira Griffith, president of the Residence Hall Association and a Chancellor’s Science Scholar, recommended “students have a seat at the table,” especially for decisions on residence hall names.

“I don’t want there to be a situation where there’s generations of students living in a building that they know is named after somebody who created a lot of harm for their community and other communities,” she said.

Whatever the new policy turns out to be, the University needs to publicize it “so that people are empowered and informed to engage in this process,” said Cheryl Giscombe, Melissa and Harry LeVine Family Professor of Quality of Life, Health Promotion and Wellness in the School of Nursing.

Information sessions about the new policy would be very helpful, Routh agreed. “The naming process is very mysterious,” he said. “Most people don’t know it.”