Recommendations to the Board of Trustees on the removal of David Starr Jordan’s name from campus structures and spaces

Board of Trustees Business Meeting, online

Friday, October 02, 2020


As you will remember, at your June meeting I said I would be asking the campus chancellors and the provost to begin a systematic review to identify any buildings or structures on IU’s campuses named for people who have been found to have held views inimical to the fundamental values of the university and where there is a case for considering the removal of their present names. I asked them to form committees on all campuses to conduct these reviews and make recommendations to me, the campus chancellor or provost, and the University Naming Committee, and ultimately, if necessary, to you, the Board of Trustees, should any of the present namings need adjusting in any way.

These committees have now all been formed and details of them can be found at my website,, which will also provide links to other relevant policies, reports, and documents. I want to thank all of the members of these committees for the important work they are undertaking on behalf of each of our campus communities.

At your June meeting, I also highlighted particular concerns that had been expressed in the university community and elsewhere about namings on the Bloomington campus related to David Starr Jordan, who served as IU's seventh president from 1885 to 1891 and as professor of zoology from 1875 to 1885.

In response to this, I established a committee of six distinguished senior IU faculty members, with additional support, to evaluate these namings. This committee’s charge was to review the structures and spaces named for Jordan—Jordan Hall, Jordan Avenue, the Jordan River, and the Jordan Parking Garage—pursuant to the university’s Institutional Naming Policy and provide a report to me, Provost Lauren Robel, and the Naming Committee with recommendations on whether the university should remove or keep using the Jordan name on these sites. The committee was co-chaired by Karen Bravo, dean and professor of law at the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law at IUPUI, and Austen Parrish, dean and James H. Rudy Professor of Law at the IU Maurer School of Law in Bloomington—both of whom are with us on Zoom today.

In a moment, I will ask the co-chairs to summarize the process undertaken by the committee and to provide an overview of their findings and recommendations.

The report of the Jordan Committee was released last week, and I commend its members for their thoughtful and exhaustive work.

David Starr Jordan and the American Eugenics movement

As the report makes clear, David Starr Jordan was a complex and complicated figure, who was influential in higher education nationally and at IU. He was, of course, a highly influential American ichthyologist in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As a faculty member at IU, he led one of the earliest—if not the very first—study abroad programs of any American university. As a forward-looking president of IU, he oversaw the university’s move to the new campus at Dunn’s Woods in 1885, secured state funds to build out the campus, instituted the then-revolutionary concept of curricular majors and electives, and emphasized the central importance of experimentation and research. He went on, of course, to serve as the first president of Stanford University.

But Jordan was also at the forefront of the American eugenics movement, and some of the beliefs he espoused in his writings, especially those concerning people he regarded as unworthy or undesirable, make for extremely troubling reading.

Jordan promoted a branch of eugenic thought known as “negative eugenics,” which later sought, through marriage laws, forced sterilization practices, and immigration controls, to prevent breeding among those deemed to be of “unfit” stock. And he was enormously influential in the movement. One scholar who advised the review committee suggested that Jordan may have been among the top 20 most influential global leaders of this movement. The Nazis acknowledged the influence of American eugenic thought on their racial theories—theories that led directly to the Holocaust.

Jordan chaired the first eugenics organization in the United States, and was a founding member and a trustee of the Human Betterment Foundation, an organization devoted entirely to the promotion of forced sterilization legislation. [1]

Indiana, in fact, became the 1st state to enact forced sterilization legislation in 1907, and 30 states followed suit. Approximately 2,500 individuals in Indiana state custody were subjected to forced sterilizations in subsequent years. Indiana’s sterilization laws were only repealed by Governor Otis Bowen, in 1974. [2]

The review committee concluded that Jordan's leadership in eugenics did not begin in a major way until after he left IU, and the committee found no evidence to suggest that those at IU who approved the original Jordan namings considered his connections to eugenics in deciding whether to honor him. However, a name on an IU building or structure is indeed an honor. And the review committee report makes it abundantly clear that to continue to honor Jordan with these namings would run counter to IU's longstanding values and core missions.

As I said in a letter to the university community this summer—and as I have said repeatedly throughout my presidency—Indiana University is committed to improving diversity, equity, and inclusiveness, to addressing social injustice, and to standing up to hatred, divisiveness, bigotry and intolerance in all of its forms. Jordan’s views of immigrants, his belief in racial hierarchies, and his belief in genetic heredity are inconsistent with this commitment. His advocacy of eugenics cannot be squared with the university's commitment that all students be treated with dignity and respect.


And so, I commend to you the recommendations before you, which are consistent with the committee’s thorough report, and with which the Naming Committee, Provost Robel, and I unanimously concur.

We are recommending that you approve:

  • Rename Jordan Hall as the Biology Building,
  • Rename the Jordan Avenue Parking Garage, the East Parking Garage, 
  • and rename the Jordan River, Campus River.

Under the IU’s naming policy, these can be thought of as “administrative names” and could be replaced with an honorific naming with the approval of the board in the future.

However, I also propose, that should you accept my recommendation, there be a moratorium on any further changes to these new names for a period of a year while thoughtful consideration be given to the development of an appropriate process to identify any recommendations as to possible new names for these sites.

I am further recommending that the renaming of Jordan Avenue be referred back to the Naming Committee and the provost of the Bloomington campus for further work toward the goal of its renaming. IU has the authority only to rename the northern portion of Jordan Avenue, while only the City of Bloomington has the authority to rename the southern portion. I am mindful that appropriate negotiations with the city over this matter might take some time, so it, too, should fall under the moratorium period I have proposed—unless you deem otherwise—during this time.


Finally, let me note that though the Jordan Committee recommended that the university should not celebrate Jordan with honorific namings, it did recommend that the university continue to acknowledge his time as a professor and as an IU president. To this end, his presidential portrait will remain in Presidents Hall, appropriate references to him will remain as part of our published university history in its various forms, and his personal and professional papers in our University Archives will remain unhindered for further study and research. Any claims to the contrary are completely false.

The report specifically suggested that an exhibit be developed related to all aspects of his life and science and I will ask that the University Historian and University Archivist begin work immediately on the development of such an exhibit.

Finally, the report also recommended that IU continue to study eugenics thinking—and the racism and ableism associated with it—to find parallels in contemporary practices. I ask that the campus faculty leadership and curriculum committees in relevant schools and programs consider this suggestion to see if there are ways in which it can be implemented.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I am very pleased to turn the floor over to the co-chairs of the Jordan Naming Review Committee, deans Karen Bravo and Austen Parrish, for further comments on the work of their committee.

Source Notes

1. Between 1907 and 1963, more than 64,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized under eugenic legislation in the United States. Between the late 1960s and the 1970s, when forced sterilization laws were repealed, it is estimated that as many as another 80,000 may have been conducted. In the latter half of the 20th century, many African American, Hispanic, and Native American women were subjected to this inhumane and deplorable treatment. It has been widely suggested that eugenic practices in Nazi Germany were modeled after the sterilization programs that existed in in the United States.   

2. Indiana adopted the nation’s first eugenic sterilization law in 1907. It was repealed in 1909 and inactive between 1909-1927 when a new eugenic sterilization law was enacted and which remained until 1974 when it was repealed by Governor Otis Bowen. There were several hundred prelaw sterilizations, taking place between 1899 and 1907, carried out on criminals in the Indiana State Reformatory. (Paul 1965, p. 342). Two studies (Paul, 1965 and Stern, 2005) estimate that approximately 2,500 individuals in total were sterilized in Indiana between 1907 and 1974 under the law.

Learn more about the review committees