Letter to the Editor—In support of Luther West


Akasha Khalsa/NW

CONTESTED NAMESAKE-After the NMU Board of Trustees recently voted to remove Luther West’s name from what was previously West Hall, the building has been temporarily dubbed the Science Building.

Carl Anderson

On December 10, the NMU Board of Trustees met for about 10 minutes to strip Luther West’s name from the science building. The West family was given about 10 days notice of this event, and when they asked if they could have time to put together a rebuttal, they were denied.

I am writing this letter because I believe that I am one of few people alive who knew West well. I grew up with his youngest son and spent as much time at the West house as my own. After I graduated from NMU and started teaching, I continued to visit West whenever I was home and had many conversations about teaching and how one should conduct oneself.  West always made a point of emphasizing that all students should be treated the same, regardless of who they are or where they came from. That was what he always tried to do when he taught.

We also talked about his time at Battle Creek College. He was not happy with the way it was run, but with a growing family to support he stayed as jobs were hard to come by at the time. He also stated many times that if you have nothing good to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.

I noted with interest that the Board did agree to keep the L. S. West scholarship. I wonder if they will place a warning label on it.

I knew West from 1946 until his death and never heard him utter a derogatory word about any person of any race; I can’t think of any other person I can say that about.

In a North Wind Letter to the Editor, Aaron Loudenslager states that West voluntarily attended a conference on eugenics and presented a paper there. How does he know it was voluntary? Miriam Hilton interviewed West in August 1972, and in that interview it was clearly stated that Kellogg, whose school he worked at, required everyone on staff to support the eugenics movement. Does that support the voluntary part? I do not know if it did or not but I do not believe we can say one way or another.

West’s talk also included a critique of the methodology used to back up the conclusions of the conference as being inappropriate and hence does not back such conclusions.

West joined the faculty at Northern in 1938 with a family of 5 to support. The curriculum as approved by the administration included a course on eugenics which he was required to teach. That course or a similar one continued being taught till in the 40’s. I do not know why it took so long to get rid of it but based on my similar experience as a one-man department, I know it is prudent to establish yourself before making changes. He also may have hesitated because he had a family to support and very few options because of the Great Depression.

I started teaching in 1964 but I stopped to visit West almost every time I returned to Marquette, 2-3 times a year. I knew him to be a true gentleman who showed no hints of racism but only concern for the wellbeing of all others.

—Carl W. Anderson, community member, NMU alumnus B.S. 1964

Editor’s Note: The North Wind is committed to offering a free and open public forum of ideas, publishing a wide range of viewpoints to accurately represent the NMU student body. This piece is a letter to the editor, written by a reader of the North Wind in response to North Wind content. It expresses the personal opinions of the individual writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the North Wind. The North Wind reserves the right to avoid publishing letters that do not meet the North Wind’s publication standards. To submit a letter to the editor contact the opinion editor at [email protected] with the subject North Wind Letter.