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UC Board Approves College Name Recommendation

A unanimous Board vote formally designates UC’s largest college as the College of Arts and Sciences.

A unanimous Board vote today formally designates UC’s largest college as the College of Arts and Sciences (a popularly used name of the college). This formal name recognition applies to the college as an academic entity.  

There have been several designations over the decades to both formally and informally refer to the University of Cincinnati’s largest college.

Over the past 140 years or so, the college has been formally and informally known as the Academic Department, the College of Liberal Arts, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.

However, until now, according to available historical records, none of these names or designations had ever been the result of formal action by the Board of Trustees. That changed today, as the Board voted to name the academic unit the College of Arts and Sciences.

This vote came because in recent decades, the college – as an academic unit – had been referred to as the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences as the result of seeming happenstance and marketing-related decisions. However, throughout that time period, students and alumni raised concerns about connecting the surname to the college’s mission and purpose.

These culminated in the 2017-19 time period when representative faculty and student  bodies within the college as well as undergraduate and graduate student governments advocated for and unanimously passed resolutions to discontinue use of the surname as attached to the college as an academic entity.

These concerns stemmed from Charles McMicken’s slave owning and trading, as well as his exclusionary bequest in his Last Will and Testament “establishing and maintaining…two Colleges for the education of white Boys and Girls.” It was this bequest (consisting of real estate) that led to the founding in 1870 of the institution we today know as UC, though it must be noted that the McMicken will neither requested nor required that his name be formally associated with the university in any way.

Earlier this year, UC President Neville Pinto formed a university-level working group to examine the life and legacy of Charles McMicken and the use of his name in affiliation with the university..

Final recommendations

“As I reflected on how best to respond to the report, my head nudged my heart for guidance,” said President Pinto in a December 12 message to campus.

The ultimate result of the deliberations by the Working Group and President Pinto as well as today’s Board vote are as follows:

  • The academic entity known as the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences will henceforth be known as the College of Arts and Sciences, effective immediately.

  • Maintain the names and designations of physical structures and spaces that currently make use of the surname – McMicken Hall, McMicken Circle, McMicken Commons and ‘Mick and Mack’ statues and restaurant – while at the same time modifying and contextualizing these structures and spaces with digital displays that more fully and fairly represent the histories associated with McMicken so that his legacies and the university’s relationship to him, in all their complexities, remain a vital and living part of the university’s history.
  • As stated in the Working Group report, create “an established process that permits proposals for assessment of a tradition, practice or symbol for possible change to be considered in a respectful, deliberative and orderly fashion.”
  • The leadership and governing board of UC Foundation will also assess the McMicken name as it relates to philanthropic purposes or uses, doing so in light of the report and President Pinto’s recommendations.

Most visible effects of today's decision

The visible effect of today’s decision would be on materials associated with the college as an academic unit – diplomas, letterhead, business cards, web materials and advertising.

And, as mentioned, digital displays would be placed in close proximity to McMicken Hall, McMicken Circle and McMicken Commons in order to fully, fairly and accurately represent Charles McMicken so that his legacies and the university’s relationship to him, in all their complexities, would remain a vital and living part of the university’s history.

The reasons underlying today's decisions

The context for each of these recommendations underlays this approach.

According to President Pinto’s December 12 message to campus, his recommendation in one instance centers and starts with the graduate’s diploma – which bears both a college and the university name. That diploma is central and cherished. It is carried by graduates throughout their lifetimes and displayed for years in homes and offices.

As the president stated in his message: “So what happens to our Arts and Sciences alumni when that prized possession causes pain or resentment because it memorializes McMicken? Would you want a daily reminder of this on your wall? And how can our future possibly be brighter if members of our Bearcats family feel the need to hide that diploma because of McMicken and his desire to fortify exclusion at our institution?”

As to other uses of the name associated with structures and physical spaces, it’s also the case that McMicken’s role as a philanthropist cannot be denied. Maintaining his name in conjunction with physical, geographical features (building and landscape) is fitting to the form of his original bequest. That bequest was not one of money but of numerous real estate properties, including buildings and land.

More background and information

  • The web page of the McMicken Working Group
  • November’s “The Report of the McMicken Working Group to the President of the University of Cincinnati”
  • President Pinto’s December 12 message to the campus community
  • An FAQ on Charles McMicken and the College of Arts and Sciences