A University of California at Berkeley committee is seeking public comment on de-naming two halls because campus groups say one is named in part for a racist and the other for a person whose research denigrated Native Americans.

The university’s physics faculty wrote on June 26 to the campus’s Building Name Review Committee noting that Le Conte Hall honors both the first acting president of UC Berkeley, John LeConte, and his brother Joseph Le Conte, who espoused racism.

Kroeber Hall on the UC Berkeley campus is named for Alfred Kroeber, whose research on Native American artifacts is today considered illegal and immoral. (Photo courtesy of UC Berkeley)

The other building, Kroeber Hall, was named after Alfred Kroeber who did research that society would now find reprehensible — and that would be illegal, according to a July 1 letter endorsed by a group of scholars and others. For instance, Kroeber collected sacred objects and remains of Native American ancestors from their graves without getting consent from their tribes or descendants, the letter said.

Joseph Le Conte supported the theories of 19th-century biologist Louis Agassiz, who held racist views about Black people, the physics faculty’s letter said. Wick Haxton, chair of UC Berkeley’s physics department, said the physics faculty had been aware of the issue.

“The Physics Department first learned about the history of the LeConte brothers, particularly Joseph LeConte, from local newspaper articles in the fall of 2017,” Haxton said. “In a faculty meeting held in January 2018, the faculty decided to support a name change, if such a change were proposed by others on campus. But we did not take the initiative ourselves to call for such a change prior to our faculty resolution last month.”

John Le Conte, professor and first acting president of UC Berkeley. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Sabrina Agarwal, one of the scholars who endorsed the letter calling for renaming Kroeber Hall, is a professor of anthropology and chair of the university’s Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act advisory committee. She said Kroeber did so much harm that it’s not justified to keep his name on the building.

Members of the Building Name Review Committee are soliciting feedback online on both proposals. The public comment period may close as early as July 15. The first review of the comments is set for July 20.

Berkeley Law’s main building’s name was removed in January after a lecturer discovered John Henry Boalt’s racist writings. Boalt was an attorney in Oakland in the 19th century whose wife donated to the school in his name.

The two latest proposals are only for removing the buildings’ name. Renaming them requires a separate process, university officials said.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.