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Caltech is removing the name of its founding president from campus

Jan. 18, 2021
School officials say Robert A. Millikan's views on gender, race, and ethnicity, including his support of eugenics, were "sexist, racist, xenophobic, and inexcusable by any standard."

Caltech—the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.—says it is removing the name of its founding president and first Nobel laureate, Robert A. Millikan, from campus buildings, assets, and honors because of his embrace of the eugenics movement in the 1920s.

Caltech president Thomas F. Rosenbaum said the university was acting on unanimous recommendations from its Committee on Naming and Recognition.

"The decision of the Board of Trustees is of seminal importance to Caltech's future," Rosenbaum said. "Renaming buildings is a symbolic act, but one that has real consequences in creating a diverse and inclusive environment. It is an act that helps define who we are and who we strive to be."

The university also has approved the removal of the names of Harry Chandler, Ezra S. Gosney, William B. Munro, Henry M. Robinson, and Albert B. Ruddock from campus assets and honors.

The decision is a direct response to the named individuals' participation in the eugenics movement through their affiliation with the Human Betterment Foundation, which supported eugenic sterilization research and distributed propaganda in support of eugenic sterilization.

Millikan, Gosney, Chandler, Munro, Robinson, and Ruddock were successful professionals, civic leaders, and philanthropists and also prominent members of society who lent their stature and names to the furtherance of racist and discriminatory practices.

In making its recommendations regarding Millikan, the committee also considered his stances on gender, race, and ethnicity, finding them sexist, racist, xenophobic, and inexcusable by any standard.

"It is fraught to judge individuals outside of their time, but it is clear from the documentation presented that Millikan lent his name and his prestige to a morally reprehensible eugenics movement that already had been discredited scientifically during his time," Rosenbaum said.

Caltech will now work to choose new names for the Robert A. Millikan Memorial Library, the Linde + Robinson Laboratory for Global Environmental Science, and Chandler Dining Hall. Ruddock House will be renamed in consultation with current and past house members. Institute leaders will also work with the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences and the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering in renaming the William B. Munro Seminar Series in the Humanities and the Gosney Research Fund.

Other honors, professorships, and awards bearing the name of the individuals in question will be renamed under the direction of the divisions, departments, and individuals most directly affected.

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