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Task Force on Naming and Recognition

October 01, 2020

To: The Caltech Community
From: Thomas F. Rosenbaum, Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and Professor of Physics
Date: October 1, 2020
Re: Task Force on Naming and Recognition

The polarization in our society, and the current inability of the political process to engage in serious discussions of the challenges that face us, was never made more evident than in Tuesday's presidential debate. As members of a university community, we strive to do better. We are committed as an institution to the open exchange of ideas as a means to discover truth. This exchange may not be easy, but we recognize that truly listening to diverse perspectives with respect and empathy is a necessary step in positive and sustainable change. We value primary sources and our evaluations of them, and take the time to interrogate facile interpretations.   

It is in this context that I am writing about the work of the Task Force on Naming and Recognition. The task force, composed of a diverse set of individuals broadly representing the Caltech community, is delving deeply into the Institute's history and our aspirations for the future. In particular, it is evaluating the memorialization of individuals such as Caltech founder and Nobel Laureate Robert A. Millikan, who was associated with the morally reprehensible eugenics movement through the Human Betterment Foundation.

A number of members of our community have expressed impatience with the process of canvassing disparate opinions and debating their merit. My firm belief is that our strength as an academic society relies on the many individuals in the Caltech community having a voice and using it. I do not believe that we will be able to move forward together unless we take the time to listen and to evaluate, and then to reconcile our actions with our values. I encourage each of you to participate in this important moment by sharing your thoughts with the task force through the Community Input Form. We grow stronger as a community when we use the tools of learning to move beyond the incapacitating polarization so prevalent today.