Frequently Asked Questions on Charles McMicken and the College of Arts and Sciences
To understand and appreciate the full context of the “Report of the McMicken Working Group to the President of the University of Cincinnati” as well as its recommendations and rationale, it’s essential to read the report of the working group.
As a follow up to this report, please see the president’s message to the campus community, wherein University of Cincinnati President Neville Pinto makes his recommendations to the Board of Trustees.
1. Who was Charles McMicken?
In brief, it was Charles McMicken who left a bequest of real estate to the City of Cincinnati upon his death in 1858 that led to the founding in 1870 of the institution that we today know as the University of Cincinnati. A businessman as well as slave owner and trader, McMicken declared in his Last Will and Testament that his bequest to Cincinnati was “for the purposes of building, establishing and maintaining as soon as practicable, after my decease, two Colleges for the education of white Boys and Girls.”
To read more-complete context on Charles McMicken and his will, please visit the report. There, you will see that Charles McMicken’s will neither requested nor required that his name be formally associated with the university in any way.
2. What is the background of this report and President Pinto’s recommendations?
In a December 10, 2018, email to the campus community, President Pinto announced his intention to form 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.
This followed intermittent changes to the names and designations of the College of Arts and Sciences over more than a century, concerns raised by students and alumni in past decades, and more-recent faculty and student resolutions at the college level as well as university-level resolutions by represenative undergraduate and graduate student governments. All resolutions were unanimous in seeking to formally discontinue the name as applied to the college as an academic unit.
To see the full context related to the president’s formation of the working group, please read the report.
3. What analysis and input went into this effort?
The working group conducted a four-phase process outlined in the report.
This included learning more about Charles McMicken’s life, his relationship to the university, and the changing names and designations to the College of Arts and Sciences over the decades. It also entailed researching existing naming protocols and precedents at UC as well as investigation into how other colleges and universities across the country have examined traditions, practices and symbols.
Web, email, UC publications (digital and print), news coverage, several campus and community input sessions as well as in-person outreach allowed the working group to gather input.
4. What did the report recommend or suggest? What were the president’s recommendations?
For the reasons detailed in this report, the working group unanimously recommended that the university discontinue the practice of calling the College of Arts and Sciences – the academic unit itself – the “McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.”
The group also recommended a framework of principled analysis that was used in this case and could be used to serve the university in other cases should they arise.
President Pinto followed up, making his recommendations in a December 12, 2019, message to the campus community. These recommendations were:
- The president endorsed the report’s recommendation to “discontinue the practice of using Charles McMicken’s name in affiliation with the College of Arts and Sciences – the academic unit itself – whenever formally or informally referring to the College.” He further recommended that the entity be known as the “College of Arts and Sciences.”
- The president also recommended that physical structures and spaces bearing McMicken’s name – McMicken Hall, McMicken Commons, McMicken Circle and Mick and Mack (statuary and café) – retain those names but modified and contextualized by digital displays in close proximity to this campus area. These displays will more fully, fairly and accurately 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.
- In addition, the president fully supported the report’s conclusion that the university 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.”
- Charge UC Foundation’s leadership and governing board with assessing philanthropic usages in light of the report and the president’s recommendations.
5. Why did the working group make its recommendations as it does? Why did President Pinto?
To truly appreciate this question, it’s necessary to read the report in order to understand the name variations employed to designate the college over the years, the life and legacy of Charles McMicken and the framework employed to weigh the ultimate recommendations.
To understand President Pinto’s reflections, rationale and vision, please read his Dec. 12 message to the campus community. There, he affirmed: “I believe using Charles McMicken’s name in affiliation with the College of Arts and Sciences has significant detrimental effects on the university’s mission and core values.”
6. What did the Dec. 17 Board vote entail?
The Board of Trustees fully endorsed President Pinto's message to the campus community on December 12, 2019, as well as approved the action items contained therein.
- The academic entity currently known as the “McMicken College of Arts and Sciences” will henceforth be known as the “College of Arts and Sciences,” effective immediately.
- Maintain the name of McMicken Hall, McMicken Circle, McMicken Commons and “Mick and Mack” statues and restaurant, while at the same time contextualizing these spaces appropriately.
- 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.
- Support President Pinto’s charge to the UC Foundation’s leadership and governing board to assess giving societies and scholarship designations in light of the report and the aforementioned recommendations.
7. What will be the most-visible effects of this decision?
The report, President Pinto’s recommendations and today's Board vote pertain to the use of the college name as an academic unit.
The visible effect would be on materials associated with the college as an academic unit – diplomas, letterhead, business cards, web materials and advertising.
In addition, current designations for McMicken Hall, McMicken Circle and McMicken Commons remain intact but digital displays will be placed in close proximity to this area. (McMicken Hall, McMicken Circle, McMicken Commons and Mick and Mack statuary are all in adjacent proximity to one another.) This digital display as well as a corresponding website would 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.
8. Why does decision making involve renaming the college as an academic unit but not renaming other features?
Context matters here.
As the president’s message to campus indicated, the graduate’s diploma – which bears both a college and the university name – is central and cherished. It is displayed for years in homes and offices.
As the president additionally 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.
Finally, modification associated with these physical features by means of displays ensures that McMicken’s his “legacies and the university’s relationship to him, in all their complexities, remain a vital part of the university’s history.”
9. Aren’t these recommendations tantamount to a suggestion that we erase history?
This is addressed in the report on a number of different occasions.
As the reports stated: Whatever the ultimate result, the university has a responsibility to not erase or misrepresent its history as well as a responsibility to preserve its history for study.
Importantly, to change or to modify a setting is not always to erase. Indeed, change and modification are indispensable in a university that has evolved over 200 years. As such, a university’s ongoing obligation is to navigate change without erasing the past. UC entities, including colleges and a campus, have changed over the years. In this instance of the College of Arts and Sciences, the names and designations associated with the unit has changed a number of times. Even so, historical records are preserved.
In this case, history will be further preserved as the president’s recommendation and resulting Board endorsement will seek to better inform and contextualize the university’s history in this regard by means of digital displays.