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Renaming Jordan Hall

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From 1917 to 2020, this building was named for David Starr Jordan (1851–1931), Stanford’s first president. Jordan left a complex legacy, including seminal leadership as the university’s founding president but also simultaneous leadership promoting eugenics.

Jordan played a central role in the university’s founding and early years and was an innovative educator and accomplished institution-builder. He implemented a modern philosophy of education, promoted what he referred to as the ‘absolute democracy of education’ and the practical arts, and established the major subject system.

He also was a noted naturalist and ichthyologist who contributed important additions to research on fish and animal evolution. His discoveries included a major contribution to the understanding of the importance of geographical isolation in the origin of new species.

Stanford continues to embrace many of the educational values Jordan espoused. Yet there was a profound limit to his democratic vision, one that pervaded his endeavors as a faculty member and university president.

Jordan was a leader and driving force of the eugenics movement, which promoted controlled reproduction based on the selection of supposedly desirable traits and helped lay the foundation for later policies of forced sterilization.

During his tenure as president of Stanford, Jordan became the inaugural chair of the Eugenics Committee of the American Breeders Association, often cited as the first eugenics body in the United States. From the beginning, this committee counted policy, legislative, and investigative and educational programs among its missions. Jordan later served on the first board of trustees of the Human Betterment Foundation, a eugenics organization founded in 1928 to push for compulsory sterilization. His teaching about eugenics at Stanford also inspired Dr. Leo Stanley, who went on to sterilize at least 600 prisoners at San Quentin.

Not only are Jordan’s beliefs and actions antithetical to the values of Stanford’s campus community, but he also used his position as president to advance them powerfully and forcefully.

When Jordan retired as University chancellor in 1917, the Zoology Building was renamed David Starr Jordan Hall. In 2020, the Department of Psychology and a student-led group petitioned the University to rename Jordan Hall because of his promotion of eugenics.

A black and white photograph of the Oval and Main Quad, circa 1904.

The Stanford Quad, circa 1904
Courtesy of Special Collections & University Archives, Stanford University Libraries.

The advisory committee appointed to consider this request followed an evidence-based, research-intensive process and produced a lengthy, thoroughly documented report with scholarly rigor that recommended removing Jordan’s name from campus spaces, including Building 420, and making his complicated history better known.

The Stanford committee’s report said that honoring Jordan with a named building was not compatible with the university’s values of diversity and inclusion, as articulated in the IDEAL initiative on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access in a Learning Environment. Committee members found it especially troubling that the building was home to Stanford’s Psychology Department, which has pioneered research revealing that negative expectations can have a deleterious impact on performance and has worked to remedy that bias.

The University Board of Trustees and President Marc Tessier-Lavigne approved the advisory committee’s recommendations, including an additional recommendation to relocate a statue of Jordan’s mentor Louis Agassiz from the front of the building. Agassiz (1807-1873), who had no significant connection to the university, was a leading naturalist of his day who also promoted polygenism, which holds that human racial groups have different ancestral origins and are unequal.