Dear Campus Community,
I am writing to share good news: Our requests to unname LeConte Hall and Barrows Hall have been approved by University of California President Michael Drake. The names “LeConte Hall” and “Barrows Hall” have been officially removed from each building, and are already in the process of being physically removed or covered. For now, until new names have been approved, we will refer to the former, which actually includes two structures, as Physics North and Physics South, and the latter as the Social Sciences Building.
We owe thanks for this welcome outcome to the members of the Building Name Review Committee, as well as the hundreds of students, faculty, staff and alumni who took the time to comment on, and express support for, the proposed unnaming of each building. The committee, in preparing its recommendation to rename these buildings adhered to a key principle: The legacy of a building’s namesake should be in alignment with the values and mission of the university as expressed in our Principles of Community. That was clearly not the case for either of these buildings.
As noted in the committee’s recommendation (LeConte Recommendation), it was in 2015 that our Black Student Union first called for LeConte to be renamed, and while I regret the time it has taken to respond, I am grateful for the continued advocacy and activism that have led to this necessary action. So, too, am I grateful for the faculty in our Department of Physics. In 2018 they passed an informal resolution in favor of renaming the building they are housed in, followed by a near-unanimous vote in June 2020 in support of the outcome we are announcing today.
LeConte Hall was meant to honor two brothers, John and Joseph LeConte, who came to Berkeley in 1869 and were among the most prominent and earliest members of the University of California’s faculty. The LeConte brothers were from a slaveholding family in Georgia and inherited a plantation with 200 slaves. Both brothers participated in the Confederate Army and served the South in the Civil War. Joseph LeConte was an outspoken advocate of deeply racist views. Despite their service to the university, the brothers’ words and deeds profoundly conflict with our values, and with our commitment to equity, inclusion and a true sense of belonging for every member of our community.
Barrows Hall is named after David Prescott Barrows, who served as president of the University of California from 1919 to 1923 and as a faculty member from 1910 to 1942. As described in the committee’s recommendation (Barrows Recommendation), since 2015, students, faculty, and staff members of the UC Berkeley community have been calling for the renaming of Barrows Hall due to Barrows’ advocacy of white supremacy and his legacy of racism towards Filipinos, Black people, and Indigenous peoples. He believed and wrote, for example, that Europeans and white people were the only "great historical race," and that, "the black lacks an inherent passion for freedom." Here, too, the historical record provides ample evidence of intolerable racist beliefs and biases that are profoundly contrary to what we know, believe and stand for.
You can learn more about the decision and the process the campus followed in this article on the Berkeley News site.
These actions come in the wake of our January unnaming of what is, for the time being, known as The Law Building. The Building Name Review Committee has advanced for consideration one additional proposal for the unnaming of Kroeber Hall, and we hope to share word of the outcome in the weeks ahead.
A building name is more than a symbol. Those who we choose to honor reflect who we are and what we believe in. I have committed my administration to doing everything in its power to identify and eliminate racism wherever it may be found on our campus and in our community. This is but one step among many that we are taking, and I am deeply grateful for the faculty, students and staff whose activism, caring, and engagement are helping us reconcile with our past for the sake of a better future.