Nicholson Hall At UMN To Be Renamed

Nicholson Hall, the University of Minnesota building that houses – among other things,  the Center for Jewish Studies – will be renamed after a unanimous vote by the school’s Board of Regents Friday morning. 

Interim President Jeff Ettinger provided his recommendation for the revocation at the May Regents meeting and reiterated his strong support for it Friday morning. 

Nicholson exhibited antisemitism and racism in his actions as a University administrator, often targeting Jewish and Black students whom he labeled “communists.” Professor Emerita Riv-Ellen Prell, a former director of the Center for Jewish Studies, helped kick all this off seven years ago. Her 2017 exhibit “A Campus Divided” laid bare the antisemitism and racism that occurred throughout the university in the 1920s and 30s. 

In 2019, a task force recommended the renaming of not only Nicholson Hall, but three other buildings named for those whose actions were antisemitic or racist, but the Regents overwhelmingly voted not to revoke the names at that time. 

After that, the Regents started creating a process to rename buildings – a policy finalized In 2022. The Board of Regents Policy on Naming and Renaming says, in part: “The University reserves the right to rename or revoke any naming if for any reason the naming is inconsistent with the University’s mission; jeopardizes the integrity of the University…” and “The president shall consider a renaming or revocation of any naming at the request of the Board. The president may also consider a renaming or revocation of any naming in response to a well-considered written request submitted by an individual or at the president’s own initiative.”

In the 2023 fall semester, past and present directors of the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Minnesota – Dr. Natan Paradise, Professor Daniel Schroeter, Professor Leslie Morris, and Prell – wrote a 48-page report to Ettinger explaining why Nicholson’s name should be revoked.

“Edward Nicholson’s actions on and off the campus grossly undermined the University’s vision of intellectual openness and educational equality in his own time. His actions offend the University’s aspirations for diversity, equity, and inclusion in our time as well,” the report said in the overview. “Edward Nicholson’s performance as the Dean of Student Affairs was distressingly interwoven during his tenure in the web of antisemitism and anti-democratic political repression in Minnesota and nationally. He brings no honor to the University of Minnesota.”

Along with the report, the four past and president directors submitted letters of support from the board of Minnesota Hillel, the Minnesota Rabbinical Association, and a group of Minnesota Christian leaders.

“They are not interested in ‘we didn’t like this person,’ or maybe ‘this person said a racist thing or two,’ Prell said. “They wanted a very, very serious case.”

According to the new process the regents set up, the All-University Honors Committee receives the request after it comes from the president’s office. After that, the Namings and Renamings Work Group discussed the submission and opened it up for public comments between March 1-18, 268 (73.6%) were in support of revoking Nicholson Hall’s name and 96 (26.4%) were either in opposition to revoking the name or were were not considered germane to the review process.

“What impressed me, truly, was the exceptional care and professionalism of everyone involved in the review of this process,” Prell said. “This was the first proposed revocation (under this process) they wanted it to be as public-facing without any sense that anything was being done under the table or around the table or prejudicially and that the review would be of the highest integrity. Because it’s a serious issue.”