The University of Maine Board of Trustees voted unanimously Monday to remove the name of a former campus president and eugenics advocate from an academic building in Orono.

The vote to remove Clarence Cook Little’s name from Little Hall follows a student petition and the work of a task force that in June recommended Little’s name be removed after finding aspects of his professional life conflicted with the university’s values.

Little, who served as president of the University of Maine at Orono from 1922 to 1925, was a key figure in the founding of Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor and a noted genetics researcher.

However, he was also a prominent figure in the eugenics movement in the United States, which sanctioned the identification and forced sterilization of individuals with undesirable characteristics, and a lead expert in the tobacco industry’s attempt to hide the link between smoking tobacco and cancer.

“Little’s leadership in these latter two areas raise doubts about the appropriateness of having his name on a campus building,” the task force commissioned by UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy wrote in its report. “His short tenure as UMaine president (his only formal relationship to the university) raises further questions about whether or not he merits the symbolic honor of a building named after him in perpetuity.”

The University of Michigan, where Little went on to serve as president from 1925 to 1929, removed his name from a building there in 2018. University of Maine officials at the time said no concerns about Little had been brought forward at Orono and there were no plans to change the name.

Clarence Cook Little was president of the University of Maine from April 1922 until August 1925, and left to accept the presidency of the University of Michigan. Clarence Cook Little Hall, dedicated in 1965, was named for him. Courtesy photo

However, the university later commissioned the task force to examine the issue following a student petition, a resolution by the UMaine student government in support of that petition and a letter from the campus organization Decolonizing UMaine. The task force recommended in June that the board remove Little’s name from the building and also that the system revise its criteria for naming buildings.

According to the task force report, of 41 buildings on the Orono campus named for individuals, 100 percent are named for people of European descent, 85 percent are named after men, 59 percent are named for UMaine administrators and 10 percent are named after businessmen or donors.

A new task force has been convened to recommend a replacement name, which will come at a later date. However, the task force report delivered in June provides recommendations that the board look at naming the building for a person of Wabanaki descent, in recognition of the university’s location in Wabanaki territory, or for a woman or person of African descent.

In approving the resolution to remove Little’s name Monday, the board also created an ad hoc working group that will examine some of the recommendations for the naming of and name changes for buildings. Board Chair James Erwin said the policy currently governing the naming of facilities is general and does not provide guiding principles for how or if a name should be changed.

“As fiduciaries for a public institution of high education, the board has to be open to the constant evolution of knowledge and understanding,” Erwin said. “While many facts of our past, what people have done or said, may be immutable, history certainly is not. As new information emerges and new interpretations follow, we acknowledge our understanding of history is subject to constant change.”

In other matters, the board also heard concerns from several retired employees and state lawmakers about a planned change to insurance benefits for retired employees. The plan set to take effect Jan. 1 would move health insurance benefits for about 3,000 retired employees and their spouses from a defined benefit to a defined contribution.

Instead of the university paying a portion of health insurance premiums for retirees, they would instead have access to a health reimbursement account to cover gaps not covered under Medicare.

Some who spoke Monday said they have been left out of the process, were surprised to hear of the changes and worried about how it would impact their coverage.

Jim McClymer, president of the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine, a union representing faculty, said the changes were not negotiated with unions and many retirees are worried about the timeline of having to figure out the changes by Jan. 1 as well as whether the HRA funding will be adequate.

Erwin acknowledged the concerns and said the system will be working to improve communication about the new plan. “The system is going to support each and every one of our retirees in connection with this change and the challenges they may be having,” he said. “You will be receiving more communications about it. It’s evident that the communications you have received have not been sufficient and we need to do a better job with that, and we will.”

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