Little Hall at the University of Maine campus in Orono was named after a former university president and eugenicist. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

A University of Maine campus building will no longer be named for a 1920s university president who was also a known eugenicist and tobacco industry spokesperson.

University of Maine System trustees voted Monday to rename Clarence Cook Little Hall, following the June recommendation of a 10-person task force formed in response to a student petition.

Little served as president of UMaine from 1922 to 1925, and Little Hall was named after him in 1966.

Little brought more funding to UMaine than any previous president, and he went on to start The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor in 1929. However, later in his career, he served as a scientific voice for the tobacco industry at a time when it denied the link between smoking and cancer. He was also a president of the American Eugenics Society.

Eugenics was a movement aimed at improving the genetic quality of the human population, historically by excluding people and groups judged to be inferior and promoting those judged to be superior. The term is now associated with white supremacy and racism.

While the trustees voted unanimously to change the name of the hall on the Orono campus, the name change is not meant to sanitize the past, UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said. Little’s portrait remains in UMaine’s library, and once the building — which houses UMaine’s psychology, modern languages and classics departments — is renamed, there will be material posted in the hall to acknowledge what it was previously called, she said.

“I don’t see this as an exercise in revisionism — which I might well resist — but much more a correction of a mistake that should’ve been recognized as such in 1966,” Board of Trustees Chair James Erwin said. “As much as we’re stewards of our institutions’ future, we are also stewards of their past and that duty requires us to engage in a reassessment of past judgments of our predecessors with great care and deference to the state of knowledge, understanding and cultural norms of the time in which those decisions were made.”

The task force that recommended the renaming earlier this year suggested that the building instead be named after a person of Wabanaki descent, a historically significant Black person or woman.

“C. C. Little’s name should be removed from Little Hall because major areas of his professional life violate the ideals that are central to the educational mission of the University of Maine and its commitment to the public good,” the group’s report said.