Harvard University Will Remove Portraits of Former President to Make Students Happy

Harvard University
Elise Amendola/AP

Harvard University plans to remove portraits of one of its former university presidents, Abbott Lawrence Lowell, from a building named after him on campus, as two incoming faculty Deans suggest that students should not have to see photos of the former president while they’re “eating Cheerios” in the dining hall.

The Lowell House will no longer be displaying portraits of former Harvard University president Abbott Lawrence Lowell and his wife Anna Parker Lowell by the time the building reopens for the fall 2019 semester, according to the school’s student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson.

Lowell, who was Harvard’s university president from 1909 to 1933 has been deemed racist, homophobic, antisemitic, and xenophobic, and according to two incoming faculty Deans, students should not have to see images of the Lowells in such a prominent space.

The two future Deans, David I. Laibson and Nina Zipser, are allegedly insisting that they do not want to erase a part of the university’s history, and said that they will invite students to view a portrait of Lowell on another location on campus.

Laibson and Zipser added that they would reinstall portraits of other members of the Lowell family, and that they plan to host discussions regarding the Lowell family legacy.

“Such an erasure is not possible and, in our view, is not desirable,” wrote Laibson and Zipser in an email, according to the Crimson, “We should not ignore or hide our history.”

“We need to keep talking about Abbott Lawrence Lowell with each new cohort of Lowell residents (discussing both the good and the bad that he contributed) whether or not he is hanging over us while we’re eating Cheerios,” added the Deans in their email.

Lowell, who was born in 1856, has fallen under scrutiny for some of his behavior during his tenure as university president. Lowell had reportedly excluded black students from living in Harvard Yard, and sought to cap the number of Jewish students at the university.

One student told the student newspaper that while he supports the Deans’ decision to remove the portrait of the former university president, he does not want to see the Lowell House remove every sign of Lowell having existed as president of the university.

“The portrait of A. Lawrence Lowell doesn’t need to be peering down at students in the middle of lunchtime or breakfast,” said the student, “I’m a Jewish student. A. Lawrence Lowell was a notorious anti-Semite. He kept out my grandfather. There are lots of reasons why we shouldn’t be honoring him.”

“That said, he’s also a part of our history. And I think there are significant problems with forgetting aspects of our history that are less comfortable for us to think about,” continued the student, adding that he believes displaying portraits, busts, or plaques of Lowell in other areas on campus would still remind students about the negative elements of Harvard’s history.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo and on Instagram.


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