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Our View: Public review of William Shockley park bequest a must

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The Auburn Recreation District must stick to its own policies and procedures and have an open public airing on whether to name 28 acres of parkland as a memorial to controversial Nobel Prize-winning scientist William Shockley. The district board voted March 23 to accept the 28-acre bequest and $50,000 for the property’s development and upkeep from Shockley’s widow, Emmy. Requirements of the bequest were that the land be used as a passive park and dedicated as the “Nobel Laureate William B. Shockley and his wife Emmy Shockley Memorial Park.” While William Shockley received a Nobel Prize in 1956 for his work developing the transistor, the scientist would go on to ruin his reputation and alienate the public when he chose to take on a highly public support of eugenics – a movement based on the improvement of the human species through the control of hereditary factors via selective breeding. Shockley’s views were based in racism, and he targeted blacks as inferior to whites intellectually. His misguided turn to racism would trump any contributions to science, however large they may have been. In fact, it trumps his Nobel Prize honor. That’s the way our society works. It was irresponsible that recreation district Director Gordy Ainsleigh knew about Shockley’s bigoted later life and chose to keep it to himself in his successful attempt to secure the land for a park. And perhaps it was also unfortunate that no other board member or district employee bothered to delve into the question of who William Shockley was. With a large shadow looming over what on the surface was a good move by the district in preserving parkland, the board now needs to follow its own written rules on naming a park. The district’s policy is for a committee to consider potential names to bring to the board. All potential names are then to be brought to the board, along with an evaluation by staff and the committee on each name considered. On the March 23 vote to accept the Shockley bequest there was no language in the motion related to naming the park. The district’s policies and procedures also dictate that a press release should be prepared and sent out to the media, inviting the public to submit their own suggestions for a park name. After that, the district’s own rules state that the public should be given an open period of about two weeks to submit proposed park names to the recreation district. The guidelines also state that a park should be named for someone making a contribution to the district or community. Technically, the contribution is the park and the $50,000. Although Ainsleigh said there is a Shockley family connection to Auburn, there has been no evidence given at an open meeting that William Shockley did anything more than buy some investment property many years ago. Four years ago, the board made a decision to name the dog park at Ashford Park the Ashley Emma Harris Haupt Memorial Dog Park. That decision was also made in the same vacuum board members seem to want to stay in. The Journal at that time failed to convince the board to follow its own rules. While Shockley was not a Nazi, the fact is that eugenics became the warped platform for Nazi Germany’s Holocaust. Eugenics played a key role in a global horror story. Other communities are taking note. In Sacramento during the past two years, eugenics proponent Charles M. Goethe has had a middle school named for him renamed Rosa Parks Middle School and Goethe Park renamed River Bend Park. The district board needs to open the naming of the park to public perusal, invite input from residents, and deliberate on a suitable name in the open forum that this community deserves. It’s a process – and, ultimately, a decision – that reflects on all residents.