In a multicultural man-bites-dog story, Mark Bernstein, the chairman of the University of Michigan Board of Regents, and his wife, Rachel Bendit, are withdrawing their previously announced gift of $3 million because their names would go on the building to be built with those funds.
Inside Higher Ed, quoting an article in the Detroit Free Press, reports this morning that the gift was intended to go toward the creation of a new, modernized multicultural center on campus whose construction was one of the demands of black students during protests in 2014. The problem?
University of Michigan protocols called for the building to be renamed Bernstein-Bendit Hall. But the university’s current multicultural center, named for newspaper founder and equal rights activist William Monroe Trotter, is the only building on Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus named for an African-American. The center would still have been called the Trotter Center, but many objected to having the name taken off of the building.
After hearing these concerns, the Free Press reports, Bernstein and his wife withdrew their gift, which means the Trotter name will remain. “We spent time with faculty, students, staff and alumni who shared with us their sense of loss,” Bernstein stated, “and who expressed their fear that the only African-American name on a building at U-M would be diminished or erased.” This is wrong, he continued. “We did not want to silence Trotter — this one, lonely African-American voice on our campus. This was, of course, not our intention, but it could have been the result.”
How satisfying it must be for Michigan’s faculty, students, staff, and alumni to have their “sense of loss” restored, and at the cost of only $3 million lost to the University. And how multiculturally sensitive and virtuous it must make Mr. and Mrs. Bernstein feel not to give that money. And how dumb University of Michigan officials must, or should, feel about their “protocols” that require donors names to go on buildings against their wishes. These people all deserve each other.