Caltech to remove name of founding president — a eugenics supporter — from campus buildings

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An undated file photo shows the Caltech campus in Pasadena. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

An undated file photo shows the Caltech campus in Pasadena. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Caltech announced Friday that it would remove the name of its founding president and first Nobel laureate, Robert A. Millikan, from campus buildings because he supported eugenics — joining universities across the nation in repudiating those who joined the racist movement a century ago.

“It is fraught to judge individuals outside of their time, but it is clear from the documentation presented that Millikan lent his name and his prestige to a morally reprehensible eugenics movement that already had been discredited scientifically during his time,” Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum said in a statement. “The renamings will help position the Institute to retain and attract the most talented and innovative researchers from every background, so we may remain a leader in science and technology.”

Rosenbaum said the Caltech Board of Trustees “overwhelmingly” voted Wednesday to drop the name of Millikan and five other eugenics proponents from all campus buildings, assets and honors. They included Harry Chandler, who served as Los Angeles Times publisher from 1917-44 and joined Millikan on the board of the Human Betterment Foundation, a Pasadena-based group that promoted eugenics.

That discredited ideology sought to use science to improve the human race by promoting traits deemed superior and breeding out those judged undesirable. Eugenics was used as a justification for Hitler’s Nazi Germany to kill 6 million Jewish people, and U.S. authorities to forcibly sterilize more than 60,000 people in California and more than 30 other states largely in the early 20th century. Those targeted for sterilization were predominantly Mexicans, Asians, Eastern and Southern Europeans and people with disabilities, low incomes and little education.

Read the full story on LATimes.com.

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