BREAKING: Teachers College Votes to Remove Eugenicist's Name from Building
Edward Thorndike was awful, and Columbia named a building after him
Wednesday evening, trustees at Teachers College at Columbia University voted to remove Edward Thorndike’s name from Thorndike Hall, as his history of support eugenics, racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism became well-known within the college. This was part of a series of votes that previously saw the name upheld.
Edward Thorndike, who recieved a PhD from Columbia in 1898, made contributions to the field of comparative psychology. But as a report given to Columbia two years ago shows, he often applied his work and credentials in ways that contributed to a discriminatory environment at the university in the early 20th century. In a public address about psychology, he enthused about the first problem the newly founded National Research Council would address: “the problem of the mental and moral qualities of the different elements of the population of the United States. What does this country get in the million or more Mexican immigrants of the last four years. [sic] What has it got form Italy, from Russia, from Scotland and Ireland? What are the descendants of the Puritans and Cavaliers and Huguenots and Dutch [like?]; and what are they doing for America?”
During his time at Columbia, he once said of a candidate for Teachers College in 1902 that he was “a good man, but I am afraid that he is a Hebrew.” This played into a dark history at Columbia during the early 20th century that saw in effect quotas against Jewish students. This made Thorndike Hall’s physical closeness to the Jewish Theological Seminary all the more awkward.
The report that led to Wednesday’s decision was produced by University Senator Krystal Cruz, who was cited by Professor Barbara Wallace in an letter addressed to the Teachers College Board of Trustees. Professor Wallace echoed popular student sentiment that the building be renamed Dr. Edmund W. Gordon Tower, who peers describe as a “tireless champion for equity and social justice in education.”