A group of University of Maryland students submitted a request to remove Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.’s name from the administration building on the campus, citing past racist and homophobic comments from the former Maryland state senator.
In December, the university adopted a University System of Maryland policy allowing community members to ask for the names of campus buildings to be changed or removed.
The university announced in June that it would be naming the main administration building in Miller’s honor. Miller died on Jan. 15 after serving as a state senator for 45 years and the Senate’s president for 33 years. He resigned from his seat in December, citing health concerns. After his death, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called Miller a “lion of the Senate.”
Miller has strong ties to this university. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1964 before attending the University of Maryland’s law school. He also “transformed” the university’s campus, former university President Wallace Loh wrote last year, lauding Miller’s efforts in garnering investments for Xfinity Center and Cole Field House, among other buildings.
“We would not be where we are if it wasn’t for some of the work of Sen. Miller, in so many respects,” university President Darryll Pines said in a January interview.
But to the five students who submitted the request and the hundreds of others backing them, Miller’s career was characterized by inflammatory remarks and discriminatory policies toward marginalized communities. In their request, the students emphasize that if the university wants to honor its pledge to be an anti-racist institution, then Miller’s name has no place on the campus.
“Whatever you think the great things that Mike Miller may have done, it actually represents the fact that the school is a business, and they don’t care about the community,” said Saba Tshibaka, a Black Terps Matter organizer who led the effort behind the official request. The presidents of university organizations Preventing Sexual Assault and MaryPIRG also signed the request.
As is required in the university’s newly updated policy, Tshibaka put together a petition to show the community’s support for changing the building name. She sent the petition as part of a 65-page package to the president’s office on Jan. 11.
When Tshibaka submitted the package, the petition had 475 signatures, including 330 from current students, she said. In their request, the students outlined several of Miller’s past comments.
In one instance, Miller said the city of Baltimore is a “ghetto” that “is shit,” citing the crack epidemic as a reason for the city’s condition.
“Mike Miller used a political dog whistle here because many people will automatically link Blackness with crack,” the students wrote in the request. “It is a way for people to be actively racist without ever explicitly talking about race.”
In addition, they continued, Miller opposed the removal of an Annapolis statue of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney in 2017. Taney wrote the 1857 Dred Scott decision, which declared Black people could not be U.S. citizens.
The group also highlighted that Miller voted against a 2012 bill to legalize same-sex marriage, calling it “an attack on traditional families.”
The students also wrote Miller had a history of making “many disgusting comments” about transgender people, pointing to his 2011 description of a bill that would have prohibited housing and employment discrimination against transgender people as “anti-family.” Miller voted for a bill banning discrimination based on gender identity three years later.
The students submitted the request prior to Miller’s death, but they remain committed to removing his name from the building.
“When someone passes away, it doesn’t erase the damage they’ve done,” the students wrote in a statement.
“While we send our condolences to his family for their loss and we understand his passing is untimely, Sen. Miller’s comments that largely impacted members of the gay and trans community cannot be ignored,” the statement read. “We are extremely forgiving to white people in this country, to a detriment to Black and Indigenous folks. That is not okay.”
Rushern Baker, Prince George’s county executive from 2010 to 2018, worked with Miller to implement several changes in the county, including pushing for an ethics law for county politicians and assistance for a deteriorating hospital.
Baker acknowledged students have the right to request to change the building name — but he emphasized Miller should be remembered for the “totality” of his life, not specific comments or decisions.
“Don’t judge people about the worst thing that they’ve done,” Baker said. “In his case, if you look at the arc of his career, it has been on the right side.”
Many of Maryland’s more progressive pieces of legislation, such as increasing the minimum wage, would not have happened without Miller, Baker said. While Miller voted against the 2012 same-sex marriage measure, he did allow it to enter the Senate floor — an action he had the power to prevent as Senate president — and worked to ensure opponents would not filibuster the legislation, for example.
“All of that stuff happened because I had a partner in Annapolis that was willing to buck the system to do what’s right for people here,” Baker said. “There are folks whose names I could gladly tear off a building. He’s not one.”
The push for the renaming of the administration building comes after a similar campaign from local community members. In December, Greenbelt Mayor Colin Byrd called for the removal of Miller’s name from the administration building and the state’s Senate office building.
Byrd said building names offer an insight into the values of a university.
“These symbols are not just symbols. They encourage,” Byrd said. “What do we want to encourage at UMD? What do we want to encourage in the state of Maryland?”
In 2015, Byrd, who was a student at the time, led an effort to change the name of this university’s football stadium. The stadium was originally named for a former university president — Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd, who has no relation to the Greenbelt mayor — who barred Black students from entering the university during most of his tenure.
After forming a group to analyze the past behaviors of its original namesake, Loh recommended changing the stadium’s name. In a December interview, Pines said he would likely form a similar type of group when considering requests to change or remove building names.
But Tshibaka worries forming a committee could prolong the process of deciding whether to change a building name. This desire for urgency is something she has pushed for as a leader of Black Terps Matter, she said.
“I’m constantly asking, ‘OK, well, can we attach a timeline to this?’” Tshibaka said. “But we take what we can get and we move onward.”