Parran Hall Name Disappears After Board of Trustees Agrees with Chancellor’s Recommendation

After six months of debate and deliberations, Parran Hall is no longer Parran Hall.

The University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees voted June 29 to remove the name of founding dean Thomas Parran Jr. from the building housing the Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH). The sign along Fifth Avenue identifying the building as Parran Hall has already been removed, and the name has been excised from the website, which now identifies the building simply as the Graduate School of Public Health.

Parran served as dean of the school from 1948 until 1958. The building was named in his honor in 1969.

But prior to his time at Pitt, Parran was U.S. surgeon general from 1938-1948. During that time, Parran’s agency conducted the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which hundreds of black men were denied effective treatment for syphilis so that the U.S. government and researchers could study the effects of the sexually transmitted disease on people who weren't treated. 

Similar studies were conducted in Guatemala between 1946 and 1948. The Guatemala experiment — and Parran’s involvement in it — were not made widely public until 2010.

More recently, a 2017 article about the Tuskegee study in The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that historians and authors researching Parran’s documents found that the noted physician had a more direct role than previously thought and was the “intellectual godfather, the architect of the study” that perpetrated the experiments on 600 black men. 

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said the process to decide whether to remove Parran’s name was judicious and thorough.

“To name a permanent university asset like a building in honor of a person … is one of the highest and most visible and permanent recognitions that our university can bestow,” Gallagher said at the board meeting. “At issue in this case is that certain information was not available at the time of the board’s original decision in 1969, due to the secret nature of the experiments in question. In my view, there is a reasonable likelihood that if the board knew of the two studies at issues here … one could easily conclude that the decision to permanently honor Dr. Parran would not have taken place.

“Both studies conducted human trials on vulnerable populations without their informed consent — actions which are fundamentally at odds with our own core values as a leading research university."

The movement to remove Parran’s name from the school began in January, when current GSPH Dean Donald Burke asked the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to form a review committee to consider whether the name was consistent with the University’s mission to create a diverse and inclusive environment.

In February, the Pitt Graduate Student Organizing Committee began collecting signatures on a petition to rename the school.

In March, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Review Committee, which consisted of faculty, staff and students nominated through Senate Council, began its review. The committee used scholarly and historical documents, debate, analysis, a community forum and online submissions from the public to draft its report and to reach the recommendation to remove the name.

Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Pam Connelly said in a statement that the review reflected processes created to ensure claims are investigated in a comprehensive and impartial manner.

“After research and education, through a respectful process, the committee allowed competing views and perspectives to be heard and challenged, which ultimately led to consensus on the recommendations,” Connelly said. “It was important to the committee not just that the name be removed, but that the legacy surrounding the man and the studies at issue continue to be analyzed, which the University is committed to doing.” 

Burke said GSPH will use the decision as an educational opportunity and will “design and implement new programs to address the complex legacy of Thomas Parran.”

A new permanent name will require approval by the Board of Trustees.