On 13 February 2017, President Barbara Gitenstein formed the Advisory Commission on Social Justice: Race and Educational Attainment (the Commission) and charged it with examining The College of New Jersey’s (TCNJ) history of race relations and social justice. The charge placed particular emphasis on the legacy of Dr. Paul D. Loser Sr.’s leadership as superintendent of Trenton Public Schools, Dr. Loser’s connection to TCNJ, and TCNJ’s relationship with the communities of Trenton and Ewing. President Gitenstein tasked the Commission with providing advisory recommendations aimed at addressing not just the history of those relationships but also programs, actions, and initiatives that might remediate instances of inequality and prejudice. President Gitenstein expected these recommendations to include practical ways for TCNJ to serve as a regional exemplar on matters of race relations, educational attainment, and social justice, with the goal of having a positive impact on the surrounding community.
Over the past three months, the Commission convened open fora with faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community representatives. The fora revealed strongly held feelings and beliefs regarding The College’s steady disassociation with the Trenton community and its 1987 decision to name the building that currently houses the Admissions office and the School of Nursing, Health and Exercise Science after Dr. Loser.
Archival research conducted by TCNJ students revealed that Dr. Loser, as superintendent of Trenton schools from 1932-1955, supported and maintained a segregated school system that shaped the prospects for opportunity for generations of Trentonians. Although the Commission’s charge is to submit a comprehensive report by 30 June 2017, the campus and community reaction to these revelations have made it difficult to fulfill the larger task. As such, it has become evident that addressing the matter of Dr. Loser’s name on the Admissions building is paramount to the Commission’s ability to move forward with the larger objective of attending to longer-term sustainable programmatic recommendations to deepen the existing connections between The College, Trenton, and Ewing and expand access to quality education among local residents.
The Commission has heard testimony not only from its various constituents but also examined how other premier institutions of higher learning have addressed similar questions and experiences and developed processes to remediate contentious issues. The Commission found parallels between the question of Paul Loser Sr.’s name on TCNJ’s Admissions building and the controversies at Georgetown and Princeton Universities, but saw the closest affinity in Yale University’s decision to rename John C. Calhoun College. From its debates, Yale University established guidelines for renaming institutional landmarks, buildings, and spaces that are pertinent to TCNJ. As TCNJ considers the Calhoun controversy as a model, it should be mindful to tailor Yale’s guidelines to reflect TCNJ’s condition with the objective of meeting its specific institutional needs. The Yale guidelines are:
Is a principal legacy of the namesake fundamentally at odds with the mission of the university?
Was the relevant principal legacy significantly contested in the time and place in which the namesake lived?
Did the university, at the time of a naming, honor a namesake for reasons that are fundamentally at odds with the mission of the university?
Does a building whose namesake has a principal legacy fundamentally at odds with the university’s mission, or which was named for reasons fundamentally at odds with the university’s mission, play a substantial role in forming community at the university?
A decision to rename a building or space is one that should not be taken lightly. It must take into consideration not only points of view that are held in the present, but should also consider historical significance of the original decision to incorporate the name, as well as its alignment with the institution’s core values.
In the case of Dr. Loser, the Commission found that the naming in 1987 was at the urging of institutional leaders who sought to recognize the generous contribution of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Loser to The College. The Losers chose rather than having their own name placed on the building, to have Tom’s father, Dr. Paul Loser Sr., recognized. It is important to note Thomas and Carol Loser as well as Tom’s brother Pete, were strong advocates for education and Trenton State College (TSC), as well as being generous and supportive of many organizations throughout Central Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Recommendation: In light of what TCNJ has learned about Dr. Paul Loser Sr.’s stand on segregation and the impact that his decisions have had on the disparities in Trenton, the Commission recommends that TCNJ remove Dr. Loser’s name from the Admissions building.
In addition to testimony from institutional stakeholders, the Commission looked to the widely-heralded guidelines established by Yale University for this recommendation. For the guidelines stated above, the Commission finds that questions 1, 2, and 4 in the Yale report are relevant to our recommendation to rename the Admissions building.
Guideline #1 – TNCJ strives to be a diverse and inclusive community. Maintaining a name on a building of someone we now know was openly and actively promoting segregation is inconsistent with our mission and values.
Guideline #2 – In 1881, a New Jersey statute was enacted that prohibited segregated schooling based on race, one of the very first such laws in the nation. Despite this, in 1944 and in violation of state law, Dr. Paul Loser Sr. advocated for and practiced the segregation of students based on color in the Trenton school system.
Guideline #4 – While some constituents expressed concern that removal of the name is an effort to erase history and would result in forgetting the significance of this moment in righting a wrong and reestablishing the college’s relationship with Trenton, the overwhelming finding is that keeping the name on the building will be an impediment to building community among our many constituents. Moreover, renaming comes with the obligation to preserve and reflect on the history that produced such an extraordinary action.
The Commission further recommends that TCNJ develop a formal process for naming and renaming institutional landmarks, buildings, and spaces to prevent future conflicts. Finally, the Commission recommends that any name placed on the Admissions building helps to reestablish ties with the Trenton community and pays tribute to the rich history and relationship TCNJ and TSC has had with the cities of Trenton and Ewing. In every forum the Commission heard the themes of reconnection and remembrance, and taking this step will help heal old wounds and serve as a reminder to the entire TCNJ/TSC community of its past. Therefore, we suggest names such as the following:
Trenton State Hall
Trenton State College Hall
Hedgepeth and Williams Hall
Robert Queen Hall
The Commission’s work is far from complete. We will continue to meet with constituents and develop the remainder of our recommendations on the timeline that was established at the onset of the Commission’s work.
John P. Donohue, co-chair
Christopher T. Fisher, co-chair