To the University of Minnesota Administration...
We are Jewish on Campus, a nonprofit organization that empowers students in the fight against antisemitism. We seek to combat antisemitism on college campuses and work with university administrators and students to create supportive campus environments for Jewish students. Our staff is largely comprised of university students, which allows us to employ a unique, experience-based approach to combat the stark rise in anti-Jewish bias on college campuses.
We are glad that the All-University Honors Committee decided to review the names of two buildings on the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus this past fall. However, we would like to express our immense disappointment that Nicholson Hall, despite also meeting the 75-year threshold for renaming, was not included in the first round of renamings despite Edward E. Nicholson’s egregious misconduct as Dean of Student Affairs.
A key aspect of Nicholson’s tenure as Dean of Student Affairs was his political surveillance of the Minnesota student body. Notably, Nicholson worked with the former congressman Ray P. Chase to help crack down on leftist activism at the U. Nicholson provided Chase with the names of student activists who held unfavorable political positions, many of whom were Jewish, and worked in tandem with Chase to limit which students could be politically active on campus and which ideals could be freely debated.
While this alone is enough to disqualify Nicholson from being honored on any campus building, it is important to also examine the historic links between anti-Communism and antisemitism in the 1930s. In the 1938 Minnesota Governor’s Race, Ray P. Chase distributed a pamphlet called “Are They Communists or Catspaws?” which included a number of plainly antisemitic attacks on Governor Elmer Benson’s campaign staff and created a false hysteria about “Jewish Communists” working in Minnesota politics. Edward E. Nicholson enabled Chase to advance his antisemitic and Christian-nationalist agenda at the University of Minnesota and aided and abetted the pervasive use of antisemitism in right-wing politics in the 1930s. Knowing this, and recognizing that Nicholson Hall is home to the U’s Center for Jewish Studies, Nicholson’s name must be removed from this building.
According to the Board of Regents’ policy on building namings and renamings, any building that keeps its honorary name for more than 75 years must be “so extraordinary that it should be sustained indefinitely beyond its 75th year.” The policy continues, “The Honors Committee shall consider if retention of the name serves as an exemplar of the University’s past, present, and future and the highest aspiration of the institution’s mission and guiding principles, including the University’s diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.” Edward E. Nicholson’s egregious misconduct and his partnership with Ray P. Chase are not the highest aspirations of the University of Minnesota’s mission and guiding principles.
Nicholson’s behavior as Dean of Student Affairs should not earn him an honorary naming on any building on campus, let alone one with such significance for the campus Jewish community. We strongly recommend that Nicholson Hall be included in the next slate of buildings that undergo retention review and would like to work with your office to establish a timeline for when this building will be renamed. We are more than willing to discuss how to further combat antisemitism at the University of Minnesota, and we look forward to hearing how your administration plans to address these concerns.
We await your response,
Jewish on Campus, in coordination with Jewish students at the University of Minnesota.