CalTech's Board of Trustees Voted To Remove Nobel Prize Winning Physicist Robert Millikan's Name From Its Campus Buildings, Assets and Honors Citing His Role In 20th Century Eugenics Movement. Should LBUSD's Board of Education Take Similar Or Other Actions Re ELB's Millikan High?
(Nov. 12, 2021) -- In January 2021, CalTech'a Board of Trustees voted to remove the name of Nobel Prize winner and CalTech founding president, Robert A. Millikan, from its campus buildings, assets and honors. Last week (early November 2021), CalTech announced the names of several formerly honored now replaced figures.
CalTech's action stemmed from Millikan's role in the "Human Betterment Foundation," which he joined as a trustee in 1937 when the group advocated forced sterilization of persons doctors deemed "feeble minded" and on that basis unfit to have children. A lengthy well-researched Nov. 10, 2021 article in Nature.com by Nidhi Subbaraman notes that "California was one of more than 30 states to carry out state-sanctioned sterilization, and would grow to be the most prolific in the country. More than 20,000 people, including young teenagers, underwent forced sterilization surgery in California before the law allowing it was dismantled in 1979" and "African Americans and immigrants were chosen for sterilization at rates that were higher than their proportion in the population."
The Nature article adds:
...When California proposed extending its sterilization programme, the Human Betterment Foundation backed the bills (the legislation did not pass). In 1934, an exhibition in Pasadena supported by the foundation praised the emerging ‘racial hygiene’ theory of the Third Reich in Germany. German eugenicists visited California and corresponded with the big eugenics groups in that state, looking to its laws as a model before Germany adopted a nationwide sterilization policy for people deemed to have certain conditions that were assumed to be hereditary — among them schizophrenia, chronic alcoholism and ‘feeble-mindedness’...
The Nature piece notes initial opposition to erasing Millikan's name from those who argued "that the recognition of Millikan on campus was for his scientific work and "'not for their social activities or wrongdoings'"...with some concern that renaming "amounts to an erasure of history" sweeping Caltech up in "cancel culture." But whether "responders supported or opposed removing names, there was broad agreement that Caltech needed to better recognize Millikan’s past defense of bigoted ideas and eugenics."
The article says "Millikan was a towering figure in US culture and politics. "'With the exception of Einstein, no scientist was better known to Americans,' former Caltech archivist Judith Goodstein wrote in a 2015 essay...When he died in 1953, the Associated Press lauded him as "a prophet of a new age, educator, humanitarian, philosopher" and "one of the world’s outstanding scientists."
Millikan High was built and named in that era. It was founded in 1956.
So 65 years later, what actions, if any, should LBUSD's policy-setting Board of Education take? Ensure that its students learn about Millikan's role, beyond his physics accomplishments, in abhorrent actions of that period in our history? Erase Millikan's name entirely from the school and find someone more appropriate to take his place?
Is this a valid issue now or does it distract from present day matters that matter more?
Elections for three of LB's School Board incumbents -- including Diana Craighead whose district includes Millikan High -- come in 2022. Would the position of the incumbent(s) or challenger(s) on this issue affect your vote and if so in what way?
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