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UA chancellor urges move for Fulbright statue; college name should stay, he says

by Jaime Adame | May 27, 2021 at 12:15 p.m.
A large group of University of Arkansas students and members of the campus community march Saturday, March 13, 2021, past a statue of J. William Fulbright near Old Main during a rally on the university campus in Fayetteville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

FAYETTEVILLE -- The statue of former U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright should be moved to a different location in the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville campus but his name should remain on the university's arts and sciences college, Chancellor Joe Steinmetz said in a letter to campus released this morning.

Steinmetz has passed on his recommendation to University of Arkansas System President Donald Bobbitt, who at a meeting of trustees today said he will take "several weeks" to review the recommendations "and then make my recommendations to the board for possible action."

A UA campus committee recommended removal of the Fulbright statue from campus as well as stripping his name from the university's arts and sciences college.

Fulbright is renowned for introducing legislation in 1945 that created the international education exchange program named after him, but his legacy on the UA campus is being reconsidered given his legislative record supporting segregation and opposing civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s.

Steinmetz, in recommending the Fulbright statue be moved from its location outside Old Main, said in his letter that "it is our desire to place the statue in a location where we can provide an accurate context for the life of Fulbright; that is, the great accomplishments as well as his failures related to civil rights."

The UA campus committee composed of students, faculty members, staff and alumni last month recommended removal of the state from campus, stating in its recommendations last month: "There was a time when Black students were not welcome on our campus. J. William Fulbright, while Senator, voted against the interests of Black students, and supported values antithetical to the university. For many, the statue is a memorial to those segregationist values and a daily reminder to our Black students of that time."

Steinmetz, in his letter today, stated: "Others suggest that we move the statue from its current location in order to reduce the discomfort that some students feel from having to pass by it when entering and exiting Old Main. Although I am very sympathetic to the latter view because it challenges the university’s efforts to expand a sense of belonging, my desire for moving the statue stems also from the educational benefits that could be derived from moving the statue to a location more conducive to learning and instruction."

No new location was given by Steinmetz in his letter, and he acknowledged a new state law,

Act 1003 states that a "historical monument shall not be relocated, vandalized, damaged, destroyed, removed, altered, renamed, rededicated, or otherwise disturbed," but allows for a petition process to remove a historical monument. It applies if a monument is of a "historical person" on public property.

In his letter, Steinmetz said his formal request to move the Fulbright statue is made "in conjunction with the statutory requirements" of the new law. He also asked "for time to develop a process to determine how we decide the future location."

Referring to the Fulbright name on the university's arts and sciences college, Steinmetz said: "The name is not only associated with a person: It is also associated with a renowned program that has promoted international understanding through education while also impacting thousands of lives. I believe it is in the best interest of the university to retain this connection. We cannot and should not erase this history and connection to our campus, primarily for the educational value his presence brings to the campus."

Steinmetz in his letter said he recommended the renaming of a campus dining hall, following the committee's recommendation after reviewing the legacy of former Arkansas governor Charles Brough and his role in the 1919 Elaine Massacre.

"While it is true that under his gubernatorial leadership, Arkansas became the only Southern state to allow women’s suffrage prior to the Nineteenth Amendment – and he publicly supported anti-lynching laws, something rare in the day – his governorship was significantly marred by his actions that led to one of the deadliest racial conflicts in history," Steinmetz said.


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