Letter to the Editor — Presentism at NMU: How a respected professor became a villain

Mark D. West

The NMU Board of Trustees, and now the NMU Foundation, have sullied the memory of Luther S. West, professor emeritus of biology at NMU from 1938 to 1965. Ignoring decades of dedication to academic research, publication and community involvement, the University has rushed to judge West and remove him from campus life: striking his name from the West Science Building, eliminating the school fight song written by West and most recently by removing his name from the student scholarship established in his honor. 

West was honored by Northern many times over the past 84 years, including when he was appointed dean of the School of Arts and Sciences in 1962 and the dedication of the West Science Building in 1966. Despite the family’s repeated requests to delay a decision — affording time for research and critical analysis, as the family was first contacted by the Office of the President on December 1, 2021 and had 10 days to respond before the NMU Board of Trustees Meeting on December 10 — and ignoring the totality of information provided by the family that incontrovertibly disputes the allegations brought forward, interim President Kerri Schuiling and Professor Russell Magnaghi have led a campaign of “revisionist history” tainting this honorable academician’s reputation with allegations of racism and the darkest aspects of eugenics. The university leaders could have chosen a careful, deliberate approach appropriate for an institution of higher learning. In contrast, these “leaders” chose to pander to the whim of a popular political fad that will fade and the damage done to West’s legacy is irrevocable.

West spoke at the initiation ceremony for the Phi Kappa Phi honor society, NMU chapter, in 1974. During his remarks, he referred to a quote, “There is nothing so terrifying as ignorance in action.” As a grandson of West, I was proud to support NMU until recently. However, I cannot and will not be affiliated in any way with an organization that purports to be academic while promulgating the basest form of presentism and ignorance. The actions of the University leadership are deplorable, unforgivable and bring shame to the entire University community.

Most sincerely and with great disappointment in NMU, Mark D. West.

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.