A University of Vermont committee has unanimously recommended that trustees remove former president Guy Bailey's name from the campus library because of his ties to the Vermont Eugenics Survey and its racist theories.
The Trustee Renaming Advisory Committee found that while Bailey "had numerous positive accomplishments that are part of his extensive legacy," his involvement in the eugenics survey was "fundamentally at odds" with the mission of the university, a report released to Seven Days on Thursday shows.
UVM's board of trustees will have the final say on the question. Trustees are expected to review the recommendation at an October 27 meeting.
The question about the name of Bailey/Howe Library surfaced last spring during student protests for racial justice that shut down traffic and disrupted classes. Changing the name was one of their many demands.
UVM zoology professor Henry Perkins founded the eugenics project, which operated from 1925 to 1936. The professor and his field workers conducted pedigree studies, lobbied for a sterilization law that targeted "defectives" and promoted the idea that Vermont's protestant Yankee heritage was superior to other backgrounds.
"In Vermont, eugenics research was largely motivated by concerns about the supposed degeneration of native-born Yankee 'stock,'" the renaming committee report states. "Although sterilization records are not available, it appears likely that it was mostly poor women, along with darker-skinned French-Canadian and Native American populations, who were targeted by the Vermont eugenic sterilization program."
Bailey played a pivotal role in raising funds for the survey, which was the first privately funded study at the university, the report stated. He also served on the Eugenics Survey Advisory Committee, which sought to influence politicians.
"Perkins and the ESV successfully lobbied for the passage of a voluntary
sterilization law in Vermont in 1931," the report states. "While there is no direct evidence that Bailey was actively involved in this lobbying effort, he remained a member of the ESV Advisory Committee during this period. In practice, many of the sterilizations subsequently carried out were involuntary."
Eugenics wasn't Bailey's only blemish. He served as president from 1920 until his death in 1940, after which he was found to have misappropriated university financial resources, "leaving the university in a dire fiscal condition," the report states. It cited the financial mistakes as another example of Bailey's legacy being "at odds" with the university's mission.
After last spring's protests, the university established a renaming committee. A faculty group led by UVM associate professor Jackie Weinstock formally submitted to the group a request to remove Bailey's name from the library complex.
The committee acknowledged that Bailey's legacy includes good work. He was a great supporter and mentor to many individual students, and his dedication helped keep UVM afloat during the financial hardship of the Great Depression, the report says.
The report also noted that while eugenics theories are now widely condemned as racist and misguided, they were popular among many progressive social reformers in the 1920s and early 1930s. So Bailey wasn't alone. The committee found no written evidence of him endorsing eugenics work beyond the UVM survey.
The committee also recommended broader steps. "Although not under the direct charge of the Renaming Advisory Committee, we further suggest,
that the University work to establish a lasting educational effort with respect to the history of eugenics, UVM’s role in it, and its impacts on populations in Vermont and beyond."
UVM trustee Ron Lumbra chairs the committee, which includes other trustees, students and faculty.