CINCINNATI — The University of Cincinnati will remove the name of Charles McMicken from the college of arts and sciences, the Board of Trustees voted Tuesday.
UC alumnus Maurice Stewart fully supports the move and thinks it’s time to change how UC uses McMicken’s name
"I was sitting at my desk reading the stories and I looked over at my degree and realized it said McMicken College," Stewart said. "I thought to myself, I don't want this name on my diploma."
University officials spent a semester examining how it should continue to commemorate McMicken, the slave-owner who founded the college of arts and sciences.
McMicken, an early 19th century businessman from Pennsylvania, bequeathed the city of Cincinnati money and property “ to found an institution where white boys and girls might be taught ” when he died in 1858.
Reports indicate McMicken owned and sold slaves, and he fathered two children by at least one enslaved woman. The children's names were Adeline McMicken Tanner Rollins and John McMicken. Neither were mentioned in his will upon his death, but he mentioned and provided for his white family members.
McMicken supported the American Colonization Society, which wanted to resettle free African Americans in western Africa in lieu of emancipation. When he died, McMicken called for the remainder of his slaves to be freed, and if any wanted to live in western Africa they were to be given $100. It is not known if he had any slaves when he died or, if he did own any slaves, if those stipulations were followed.
Stewart, who is black, said McMicken's history made it difficult for him to look at the man's name on his diploma. He currently covers the name with a yellow Post-It note.
"You know he was a slave owner, I think its disrespectful to my ancestors," Stewart said. "I worked hard for that degree and while there's history I understand that I'm not trying to change history. I think its a way you go about it.
According to the university's board of trustees, McMicken's name will remain on buildings and physical structures like McMicken Hall, McMicken Circle, McMicken Commons and "Mick and Mack" statues and restaurant. The university will add digital displays which will "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."
"Its a great step forward," Stewart said. "Again, we cant change history but I think with the university deciding to provide a context of Charles McMicken, adding that to the structures that are on campus. I think that is a great step forward."
The College of Arts and Science's building has been associated with McMicken throughout the years though too.
According to UC's report, the building was referenced as the Academic Department in the 19th century. In 1909, commencement programs began calling the building "McMicken College." From 1926 to 1952, the building is referenced in programs as the College of Liberal Arts.
McMicken's name continued to be included and excluded from the programs until 2017 when Dean Ken Petren "began discontinuing its use of the McMicken surname in its marketing materials and communications."
The most visible effects will be on diplomas, letterheads, business cards, websites and advertising.
"The university has a responsibility to not erase or misrepresent its history as well as a responsibility to preserve its history for study," the university's report reads. "Using McMicken’s surname without acknowledging his legacy of racially discriminatory exploitation and exclusion presents a sanitized account of him and his relationship to UC that betrays academic values."
University of Cincinnati President Neville Pinto says he endorsed the groups report because of the pain and resentment some alum may feel by seeing McMicken's name on their diplomas.
"I think this sets an incredible example of what true leadership is and how we need to really discuss our history, come to grips with it and then think about how it fits into our future," Pinto said.
A UC spokesperson said new diplomas without McMicken's name will be issued to the graduating class of 2020.