It's been 45 years since the Indian was dropped as the Stanford University mascot by then-President Richard Lyman, and even to this day some alumni are still resentful and withhold financial support from their alma mater.
Those who fought against that decision in 1972 viewed it as a capitulation to political correctness and to a groundswell of student opinion that coincided with the national Native American social movement. It was a highly emotional debate that broke largely along generational lines.
But today, and with each passing year, one would be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of students, faculty or alumni with any regrets about what at the time was a highly controversial decision. And many don't even know the history, even as they may wonder why Stanford today has no official mascot, is known in athletic competitions as a color (as decreed by Lyman's successor, Don Kennedy) and is unofficially represented by a tree.
Naming and mascots can be messy business. Over the past year a highly motivated group of Palo Alto parents has waged a campaign to rename Jordan and Terman middle schools because their namesakes, David Starr Jordan (the first president of Stanford) and Lewis Terman (a Stanford psychologist and creator of the IQ test), were proponents of eugenics.
The group put enough pressure on Palo Alto school district Superintendent Max McGee and the school board that McGee formed a 13-member committee that was dominated by advocates for changing the school names and whose recommendations, presented in a 61-page report and 15 appendices, surprised no one.
All signs point to the school board voting to approve the renaming at its meeting on Tuesday.
There is no "right" answer to this debate, and both sides make thoughtful and persuasive arguments. Supporters argue passionately that the beliefs of Jordan and Terman run so counter to the current values of our community that their lives should not be honored through school names. Opponents vehemently disagree and believe that the beliefs and accomplishments of these two should be used as a teaching opportunity with students to demonstrate how political and social beliefs evolve.
Were it not for a report on David Starr Jordan done by the seventh-grader whose parents then raised concerns with other parents, it is likely that Jordan's and Terman's histories would have remained under anyone's radar. Regardless of whether one believes these school names should be changed, this student has provided a great educational service to the community.
Our concern is less with the merits of changing the names and more with the ongoing resources this effort is consuming. Like so many other issues deemed important by some segment of the community, this one has been a distraction and a diversion from other district priorities and challenges. And it has stirred up emotions and divided people, not over disagreements about eugenics but over what should done about such discoveries.
At a time when the school district is facing serious budget cuts, the amount of time and energy being invested in this effort is regrettable even as the cause is noble.
If the school board votes to approve renaming the two schools next week, as expected, the district will then establish a new committee to recommend new names, a task that will surely become its own source of controversy. And then implementing the name changes will be costly, as signage, stationery, business cards, gym floors, uniforms and other things must all be re-branded, all at a time when we are cutting valuable school services. That doesn't make sense.
Our hope is that the board delays implementation of the renaming until we have successfully addressed the budget shortfalls and avoids a drawn-out community process for determining new names. For Terman, we urge a renaming to honor Lewis Terman's son, Frederick, a historical figure in his own right and not associated with eugenics. Easy, cheap and a teaching moment for Terman students.
For Jordan, the school board should bring back the name Wilbur Middle School, named after Ray Lyman Wilbur, a medical doctor who served 27 years as Stanford's third president between 1916 and 1943 and who created the lease allowing Palo Alto High School to be built on Stanford property. The Wilbur name was retired when Jordan was closed in 1985 (later reopened in 1991) and students were merged together on the Wilbur campus, now called Jane Lathrop Stanford (JLS) Middle School.
Spare the community and the district another year or more of debate about new names and just make a decision. And defer implementation until either the money needed is privately raised or we aren't cutting other needed school programs.