UC cuts ties with slave-owning founder Charles McMicken with unanimous board vote

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Mon., Nov. 20, 2017: The University of Cincinnati campus. McMicken Hall is in the foreground.
Mon., Nov. 20, 2017: The University of Cincinnati campus. McMicken Hall is in the foreground.

The University of Cincinnati board of trustees unanimously voted to rename all campus spaces connected to its founder Charles McMicken, as recommended by university president Neville Pinto, during a board meeting Tuesday morning.

The decision to cut ties with the slave owner who fathered children with one, and possibly two, enslaved women was years in the making.

Pinto requested a group of university officials, professors, alumni and student leaders convene in 2019 to assess the university's affiliation with McMicken. The group found the university's connection to McMicken, who donated the money and land that build UC in the late 1800s "for the education of white Boys and Girls," symbolizes "the university's failure to commit fully to the principles of diversity and inclusion that it professes" and "betrays academic values."

Charles McMicken donated the money that built the University of Cincinnati.
Charles McMicken donated the money that built the University of Cincinnati.

Pinto recommended the removal of McMicken's name from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2019, which the board approved unanimously. Now McMicken's name will be struck from the rest of UC's campus, including:

  • McMicken Hall, perhaps the most iconic building on UC's main campus.

  • McMicken Commons.

  • McMicken Circle.

  • Mick & Mack's Contemporary Café. Mick and Mack refers to the two lion statues that have stood for more than a century on the western steps into McMicken Hall (the original was razed and rebuilt for the current version six decades ago).

Those spaces are now rebranded as Arts & Sciences Hall, Bearcats Commons, University Circle and Bearcats Café, per Pinto's recommendation. The board also approved the upgrade of university digital displays "to better reflect McMicken's legacy and the university's complex historical connection to him."

"The prominence of McMicken’s name on campus, and the symbolism of exclusion it represents, is holding us back from creating and sustaining a full sense of belonging for all," Pinto said Tuesday, reading from his recommendation.

"We have witnessed tragedy after heart-wrenching tragedy – lives lessened or lost due to hate, injustice, inequality and exclusion. As some communities rise together to fight racism, others are being ripped apart by it. We cannot allow division or despair to define our nation, much less our campus community," Pinto said.

Isaac Smitherman, UC's student body president, said that conversations with the campus community have confirmed that Black students still don't feel comfortable on campus. Tuesday's decision to remove McMicken's tie to UC was a step in the right direction, Smitherman said, but it will take additional work and collaboration with university leaders to ensure all students feel welcomed and supported.

“Getting better is always a journey, and I want to personally thank President Pinto for his vision and guidance in helping us to take this next step," board chair Kim Heiman said during Tuesday's meeting.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: University of Cincinnati cuts ties with founder Charles McMicken