The Johns Hopkins Committee to Establish Principles on Naming has issued a draft report for feedback, outlining its recommendations for the principles and processes concerning future requests to change named campus facilities, professorships, scholarships, or programs.
The committee was formed in summer 2020 while the university reckoned with issues of structural racism that endure in American society and within the Johns Hopkins community itself. The committee was announced in a message to the community by JHU President Ronald J. Daniels and Provost Sunil Kumar.
"We hope—indeed, we believe—that we will look back upon this era as a watershed in the advancement of true equity and inclusion," they wrote. "But to do so, we must redouble our commitment to listen attentively, deliberate thoughtfully, and act with urgency to address issues of historical and present-day racial injustice."
In its draft report, the committee recommends the creation of a permanent Name Review Board, or "NRB," which would review requests to rename or de-name university facilities and programs by studying the historical record, seeking community input, and applying a consistent set of substantive criteria to evaluate the multiple and often complex legacies associated with the name. The NRB would include representatives from among Johns Hopkins' students, faculty, staff, and local community. For each inquiry, the exact make-up of the NRB would shift, depending on where the name in question is located, to include representatives from the division that houses the name.
In its review, the NRB would be called upon to provide a holistic consideration of a number of substantive criteria, which the committee posed as a set of questions:
- What do scholars substantially agree to be the person's prime legacies?
- Does the evidentiary record show that the person's prime legacies included conduct that violates or contradicts the Johns Hopkins mission and values?
- If yes, what was the severity of that conduct and its consequences? How is it balanced against other dimensions of the person's life? Is there evidence that the person meaningfully acknowledged or repaired that conduct?
- What is the relationship of the person to the institution?
- What was the process used to apply the original name, and what was the honoree being recognized for?
- What is the nature and scope of moral injury sustained by keeping their name? Could substantive reparation for this moral injury occur by means other than removing the name?
- What are the impacts—positive or negative—of removing the name? Are there constraints that qualify the ability of the institution to remove the name?
As part of its review, the NRB will consider how best to contextualize a named feature, whether it remains on a building or program or is removed. The absence of context around a named feature is a missed opportunity to teach and inform others, the committee explains in their report. The same missed opportunity occurs when a name is removed from a campus program or facility. The process of contextualization—which could be as simple as providing an information kiosk or plaque, but may also include coordinated, active approaches such as permanent exhibits, lecture series, or artistic installations—should provide "an enduring rationale" for why a name was bestowed upon or removed from a campus feature.
The goal of the contextualization process, the committee writes, is to inform others; reinforce the institution's values and purpose; enhance the physical and emotional experience of members of the university community; and mitigate moral injury.
The committee is made up of 22 members representing seven university divisions. Members include three students, 10 faculty members, five members of the administration, and four trustees. Together, they met nearly a dozen times since October to compile the report and their recommendations. They conducted 11 listening sessions with stakeholder groups across the university and Baltimore community and drew inspiration from similar reports from 14 peer institutions—meeting twice each with representatives from Stanford University, the University of Virginia, and Yale University—to inform their work and further their information gathering.
The committee seeks feedback on its proposals and principles by April 28. Feedback may be submitted via the comment form on the committee's website or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, the committee will host a town hall discussion on April 13, from noon to 1 p.m.; register online in advance.