Wed. Jul 17th, 2024

On Friday, Sept. 7, West Chester University president Christopher Fiorentino announced in an email that the proposed removal of former WCU professor Samuel C. Schmucker’s name from WCU’s science center was approved by the university’s Council of Trustees.

The announcement comes a year after criticism first arose regarding Schmucker’s history of promoting eugenics in his published work and speeches. A letter submitted to The Quad by students concerned with Schmucker’s history described his views as having “reprehensible ableist, racist and sexist views associated with the eugenics movement.”

The first person to come across Schmucker’s writings and the main researcher behind the letter, published in The Quad on Sept. 18, 2022, was Aaron Stoyack.

Stoyack, who graduated from the university in spring 2022 with a degree in history, had been researching Henry Goddard for his senior research project. Goddard was a WCU professor who was friends with Schmucker and was known for promoting eugenics. During the research process, Stoyack came across mentions of Schmucker in Goddard’s writing. Curious about the connection, he sought out a book that Schmucker published.

It didn’t take long for Stoyack to see that Schmucker held similar beliefs. 

“Within a minute, I turned to a chapter that sounded bad and I started reading, and I was like, ‘yep, that’s what I was afraid of,’” Stoyack said, of reading the chapter titled “The Future Evolution of Man” in Schmucker’s book, “The Meaning of Evolution.” 

The letter by concerned students delves further into this chapter of Schmucker’s book, stating, “[Schmucker] talks about raising the pedigree of humankind to improve the world of the future. It is a future that has eradicated people with intellectual disability.”

After reading Schmucker’s book and doing more research on him and his writings, Stoyack submitted his final paper for class. His professor, Dr. Brent Ruswick, encouraged him to take further action on the issue, eventually causing Stoyack, Ruswick and some of his classmates to research and write a letter that would inform the WCU community about Schmucker’s history. 

Shortly after The Quad published the letter in September, a student organization named Students Against Schmucker (SAS) formed in order to raise awareness of Schmucker’s controversy and petition for the removal of his name from the science center. In an article published to The Quad last December, Jamie Simonds detailed the organization’s success in collecting over 500 student signatures and 100 faculty signatures for petitions in support of changing the building’s name. 

“I’m happy that the students felt enabled to go and do this,” Stoyack said.

In a town hall meeting led by the President’s Cabinet on Feb. 28, 2023, Fiorentino responded to a question about progress being made on the name change. 

He stated that a committee he appointed was working on reviewing the facts to then make a recommendation to him. The recommendation was then taken to the WCU Council of Trustees — a panel of 11 individuals who are consulted regarding campus concerns and policies.

Throughout the spring semester further investigation was conducted by The Namesake Committee, a group of individuals selected by Fiorentino. 

“The idea was to make sure there were people on the committee that represented all the campus constituencies: students, faculty, staff, alumni,” said Dr. Simon Ruchti, a professor in the Philosophy department and member of the committee.

The process involved committee members researching Schmucker’s writings, holding weekly meetings and interviewing community members beginning in March 2023, according to the committee’s final report. The procedures were guided by a Naming University Facilities and Programs Policy established in Oct. 2022 which allowed them “to terminate a naming right under certain circumstances,” according to an email sent out by administration. 

Their efforts culminated in a final report written by Dr. Ruchti and Dr. David Thomas, Director of the Office for Educational Accessibility, outlining the committee’s six major reasons for recommending the name change. These include but aren’t limited to: Schmucker’s overt support of the “psuedo-science of eugenics [which] is contrary to the values of WCU,” agreement amongst all but one source who spoke with the committee that the name should be removed and the fact that Schmucker’s “positions were considered extreme even in his own time.”

The report emphasized that while it is important to acknowledge Schmucker’s impact on WCU, in order to better pursue the University’s values, his work should not be memorialized through the naming of buildings.

“Do we want to continue to shout the values of Samuel Christian Schmucker to the world as the best of us and who we aim to be?” writes the conclusion of the report. “Or do we want to reinvent a monument on our campus so that it supports a different set of values without hiding from the lessons of our past?”

Students, faculty and staff of the university were informed that the committee’s recommendation was approved by Fiorentino on Sept. 1 and forwarded to the Council of Trustees, where it was approved on Sept. 7. 

Since the announcement, Schmucker’s name has been covered on campus signage around the building in question. The building is now being referred to solely as the Science Center.

Dr. Ruchti says seeing students take the lead in enacting change and receiving such widespread community support was encouraging.

Stoyack says he was satisfied with the university’s recent decision, but not surprised, due to the student body’s involvement and dedication.

“It’s not just about a name,” Stoyack said. “It’s about legacies and what we continue to remember. Our university should be a place where these things can be remembered, but not memorialized.”

According to Ruchti, the university plans to move forward with the next actions outlined in the university naming procedure.

In Fiorentino’s email statement on Sept. 7, subsequent steps in naming campus buildings would follow immediately; an exact timeline, however, is not yet clear.

Olivia Schlinkman is a third-year Political Science major with minors in Spanish and Journalism.

Emma Hogan is a fourth-year English major with a minor in Journalism.

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