As Johnson County Community College prepares to recognize the 25th anniversary of the Carlsen Center, a student group wants to see the name changed on the school’s most prominent building.
The education and cultural center on the Overland Park campus is named after former president Charles Carlsen, a popular leader who served in that capacity for 25 years.
In an editorial published earlier this month in the college’s student-run newspaper, the editorial staff called for the center to be renamed because Carlsen was accused of having made unwanted sexual advances to a female employee shortly before he voluntarily retired in 2006. Those allegations, which brought controversy to the institution at the time, were never proved.
The Campus Ledger was first to report on the sexual harassment allegations and the subsequent investigation by the school nine years ago. This latest editorial represents the second time the paper has questioned the name emblazoned on the center. An editorial raising the naming question was published in 2008.
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According to news reports at the time, Carlsen stated that while he had done nothing wrong, the investigation was distracting from the college’s education mission. Carlsen could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Carlsen was responsible for helping to establish the center that opened in 1991.
Ledger editor Peter Schulte said he and other members of the staff plan to appear before the college’s trustees at the board’s 5 p.m. meeting Thursday to present their name-change request.
“With it being the 25th anniversary, it’s a time to reflect and to talk about successes and failures,” Schulte said this week. He said that since most students attending the two-year college were most likely not on the campus nine years ago, “we thought it would be relevant to bring this story to light and to bring up the name change.”
Trustees reached by phone Wednesday said they were not aware that students planned to address the board regarding changing the name of the Carlsen Center. Nor were they certain about the process to take such action.
“This issue has not been raised in the four years that I’ve been on the board. I don’t have any feeling on the matter one way or the other,” said trustee president Greg Musil. “I am willing to listen. It is obviously a serious enough matter for them to bring this up.”
Musil said the college has been talking about spending money to make improvements to the facility in recognition of its 25 years on campus.
The facility was built for $21 million as an arts complex. It houses the 1,250-seat Yardley Hall, the 400-seat Polsky Theatre, a recital hall, a black box theater for student performances, classrooms and offices.
Community college trustees said they don’t respond at meetings to comments made during the public forum portion of the session, and even if students bring up the name-change idea they were not certain it would be discussed further among them.
Renaming a campus facility because of controversy is not new — it’s why some schools across the country are cautious about naming structures after living former administrators, benefactors or their living family members. There’s always the risk that person may fall into misfortune that could cast a shadow on the school.
Consider Penn State University, which a few summers ago removed a statue of longtime football coach Joe Paterno because of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case.
The University of Missouri learned the risks in naming facilities for the living in 2004. That’s when its new $75 million basketball arena was named the Paige Sports Arena after Paige Laurie, then a 22-year old Wal-Mart heiress. Her parents, Nancy and Bill Laurie of Columbia, had donated $25 million toward the project.
Eight months later, the girl’s roommate accused her of cheating in college. The next week, the school renamed the facility Mizzou Arena.