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University of Cincinnati removes name of founder who owned enslaved people

Four campus spaces will be scrubbed of the name of Charles McMicken, a Cincinnati businessman who owned enslaved people in the 19th century.
Image: General view of the University of Cincinnati campus on August 31, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
McMicken’s name will be removed from the University of Cincinnati campus entirely after an unanimous vote on Tuesday. Michael Hickey / Getty Images file

The board of trustees of the University of Cincinnati (UC) voted unanimously on Tuesday to remove any mention of the school’s racist founder, Charles McMicken, from campus. 

The decision came after a yearslong process spearheaded by Neville Pinto, the university’s president, to investigate and begin the process of reconciling the school’s relationship with McMicken, a Cincinnati businessman and owner of enslaved people who had at least two children with enslaved women. 

Upon his death in 1858, McMicken left land to the city for the purposes of establishing “two Colleges for the education of white Boys and Girls,” according to the university. About a decade later, McMicken’s bequest led to UC’s founding. 

In December 2018, Pinto sent an email to the university community announcing the formation of a working group of administrators, faculty, alumni and students to examine McMicken’s legacy and the “use of his name in affiliation with the university.” 

The working group’s 44-page report, released about a year later, unanimously recommended that the university discontinue using McMicken’s name in connection with the school’s College of Arts and Sciences, which had been known in part as the “McMicken College of Arts and Sciences” for more than a century. That decision was approved unanimously by the school’s board of trustees in December 2019. 

“Truth be told, McMicken’s place in our history has been too tidy for too long,” Pinto wrote in a message to the university community at the time. 

Tuesday’s move goes a step further. Pinto recommended the removal of McMicken’s name from campus entirely — particularly four spaces on campus, which include a hall and a cafe. Those spaces will be renamed Arts & Sciences Hall, Bearcats Commons, University Circle and Bearcats Cafe. Pinto also called for the university to update its digital displays to better reflect the school’s “complex historical connection” to McMicken’s legacy. 

UC is one of several higher education institutions that have made efforts in recent years to reconcile their connections to slavery and anti-Black racism. In June 2020, the University of Southern California stripped a campus building of the name of a former president who was a prominent advocate for eugenics. And in April of this year, a report from a faculty-led committee at Harvard University recommended that the school return the remains, kept in a museum, of almost 20 people who were likely enslaved. 

Just over 8% of UC’s nearly 50,000 enrolled students are African American, according to the school’s website. About 67% of enrolled students are white. 

In a statement on Monday before the vote took place, Pinto said the changes would take effect immediately. 

“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.