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MSU Billings considering changing name of McMullen Hall over namesake's embrace of eugenics

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Nadya Faulx
Yellowstone Public Radio
McMullen Hall is named for Lynn B. McMullen, the first president of Eastern Montana State Normal School, which later became MSUB.

Montana State University Billings is considering renaming its main administrative building over its namesake’s belief in eugenics.

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MSU Billings
Lynn B. McMullen

McMullen Hall is named after Lynn B. McMullen, the first president of Eastern Montana State Normal School, which later became MSUB.

Numerous newspapers in 1935 quoted McMullen as expressing support for Nazi Germany’s sterilization of the “unfit” while giving a graduation speech at what is now the University of Northern Colorado.

“Dr. McMullen, pointing out that education can only improve intelligence, not create it, declared: ‘I abominate Hitler’s general policies but if I am correctly informed in his campaign for sterilization for the unfit, I prophesy that Germany will do more for the uplift of her society in the next 50 years, through sterilization, than we have done in 85 years through sterilization,’” the Associated Press reported.

A headline in the Billings Gazette on Aug. 18, 1935, read: “Dr. M’Mullen, in Colorado talk, lauds Hitler plan for race improvement.”

Eugenics is a racially based, discredited theory that was also a foundational policy of Nazi Germany and a justification for forced sterilization and genocide.

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MSU Billings Academic Senate members voted Thursday to support the name change. Senate chair Jen Lynn says she’s in favor.

"As a historian, I believe it’s extremely important for us to engage in our past, to use these moments of change and information that we find to open a larger discussion about our institutions, our history, our community," senate Chair Jen Lynn said following the meeting.

Members of the MSUB history department, including Lynn, addressed a letter to school administrators in February flagging the historic coverage of McMullen’s speech and asking them to formally change the name.

In a statement sent to the university community Thursday, Chancellor Stefani Hicswa calls McMullen’s embrace of eugenics “a very serious issue” and says MSUB has established a task force to review the name.

“In light of historical documents that were recently brought to my attention, I wanted to let you know that I have formed a university task force, comprised of a diverse group of students, faculty, and staff representation to investigate the situation,” she wrote.

The group will advise the chancellor on recommendations. Any change would need to be approved by the state Board of Regents. Yellowstone Public Radio is a department of MSUB and staff are MSUB employees.

McMullen Hall, the first building constructed on campus, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.