Pres Schill: Keep Deady, add Black Cultural Center

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Dear University of Oregon community,

Like many universities throughout the nation, the University of Oregon is actively engaging in issues of diversity and inclusion on campus and using them as an opportunity for debate, learning, and community-building. Some well-publicized incidents this academic year have underlined the importance of our efforts to ensure that each and every student, faculty, and staff member feels included and comfortable learning and contributing here. 

In this message, I want to focus on two decisions—I will not recommend to the Board of Trustees that it dename Deady Hall, and we will move forward with efforts to build a new Black cultural center at the UO. I am announcing these decisions now because our campus needs clarity about the status of Deady Hall and a clear path forward to focus on tangible actions we can take to improve the climate at the UO for students of color, specifically those who identify as Black or African American. 

In the fall of 2015, the Black Students Task Force presented UO leadership with a set of 13 demands. One demand requested the following: “Change the names of all of the KKK-related buildings on campus. Deady Hall will be the first building to be renamed.” In February 2016, I empaneled a committee, chaired by Associate Professor Charise Cheney, to provide me with advice on a set of criteria that could be utilized in decisions for denaming buildings on campus. After receiving the committee recommendations, I appointed three historians to research the historical record of Dunn Hall and Deady Hall’s namesakes and answer a set of questions based upon these criteria.

On August 9, 2016, we released the historians’ 34-page report. More than 1,000 people—faculty and staff members, students, alumni, and community members—provided input on the report and numerous editorials, letters to the editor, and commentaries have appeared in the media.

On September 1, 2016, in a letter to the community, I established a set of principles that would guide my decision about whether to recommend the denaming of a building on campus to the Board of Trustees. They are as follows:

  • Bigotry and racism have no place in our society or our university. Each of us must value each other based on individual merit and not the color of our skin, the social status of our parents, our gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or physical or mental ability.
  • It is vital that all students at the University of Oregon feel valued and included as part of this institution. This is true for every member of our community, but particular attention needs to be paid to members of groups who often feel isolated and alienated as a result of their chronic underrepresentation on campus and the legacy of racism in this state and nation.
  • We must be careful not to obscure our history regardless of whether we like what we find when we study it. The only way we can understand our present and prevent injustice from repeating itself is to study our history and learn from our past.
  • The process of naming or denaming a building has symbolic value. But symbols are less important than actions that affect the material circumstances of members of our community.
  • Naming a building and denaming a building are not identical actions and should be governed by separate decision-making processes and considerations.
  • Naming a building honors an individual either for exceptional contributions to the university and our society or for exceptional generosity. While extremely meaningful, naming a building occurs regularly and is usually done contemporaneously with, or shortly after, the life of the person for whom a building is named. The very purpose of naming is to establish a durable honor that stands the test of time.
  • Denaming a building, on the other hand, is an extraordinary event and should only occur in very limited circumstances. Many decades may have passed since the person whose name is on a building was alive, and information will typically be less complete than in a naming decision. Contemporary decision-makers will often be limited in their ability to evaluate the behavior of people who lived in circumstances and with cultural mores very different from our own. Denaming is also an act associated with ignominy and the destruction of reputation. We should normally be careful when we do this, particularly because the person involved will seldom be available to defend himself or herself.
  • Finally, denaming threatens to obscure history and hide the ugliness of our past, which is contrary to our institution’s values of promoting lifelong learning and sharing knowledge. Therefore, the presumption should be against denaming a building except in extraordinarily egregious circumstances.

In that letter, I announced my decision to recommend to the Board of Trustees that they dename Dunn Hall, a building that commemorated a former professor of classics at the University of Oregon who also served as the Grand Cyclops of the Lane County Ku Klux Klan. The Board of Trustees unanimously adopted this recommendation on September 9, 2016. Dunn Hall was temporarily renamed Cedar Hall.

Because the issue of potentially denaming Deady Hall was more contested, I decided to delay a decision until UO students returned from their summer vacations so we could continue the conversation. Throughout the fall term I have continued to solicit the opinions of community members on the question of denaming Deady Hall.  

In applying the principles for denaming to Dunn Hall, I found that the presumption against denaming was outweighed by the facts set forth in the historian’s report—namely that Frederick Dunn was the head of a hate group that supported racism and violence against African Americans, Catholics, and Jews, and was not a man for whom a building should be named on the University of Oregon campus. Matthew Deady, however, presents a more complicated case, the detailed facts of which are recounted my September 1, 2016, letter to campus and in the historians’ report.

In my view, the facts set forth in the historian’s report do not support overturning the presumption against denaming Deady Hall. Many of Deady’s historical accomplishments were exceptional. He was an active and respected legislator and political figure in the state. He was appointed by President Buchanan to be the first federal judge for the State of Oregon. He, more than any single person in the University of Oregon’s history, played a formative role in its creation and early years as a regent. It was his work in persuading Northern Pacific Railroad president Henry Villard to donate to the university that kept its doors open in the 1880s.

Of course, Deady was also a deeply flawed man. He held racist views which I find abhorrent and contrary to the principles of our university. His support of slavery prior to the Civil War cannot be excused, even if it was based upon his understanding of the “letter of the law” of property. Nor can his support for the 1849 exclusion act be ignored. The fact that Deady’s views and actions were shared by many Oregonians at the time he lived does not excuse them, although it does explain them. 

Although Deady’s racist views did not abate after the Civil War, he fully embraced the new constitutional order. The historians characterize his change as a “metamorphosis.” Deady supported the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which guarantee to all equal protection under the US Constitution. While he never had the opportunity to issue an opinion involving African American civil rights, he was a protector of Chinese immigrants.

Deady does not represent an example of an egregious case justifying overturning the presumption against denaming. Unlike Dunn, he was not the head of an organization which espoused violence against vulnerable populations. Also unlike Dunn, his positive acts and importance to the nation, state, and university were noteworthy and of historical distinction. For all of these reasons, I will not recommend that the Board of Trustees dename Deady Hall.

The fact that Deady Hall will remain a symbol of racial intolerance for many of our students is troubling. Many students associate this past and our continuing to honor a man who was racially intolerant as evidence that the university does not take their concerns about diversity and inclusion seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As I have stated previously, bigotry and racism have no place in our society or in our university. It is vital that all students at the University of Oregon feel valued and included as part of this institution. While the process of naming or denaming a building has symbolic value, symbols are less important than actions that affect the material circumstances of members of our community. It is these actions that we now must focus on.

We have already implemented half of the demands of the Black Student Task Force, including the creation of the Umoja Academic Residential Center, the creation of an African American Opportunities Program and accelerated efforts to recruit African American students to the university, and the hiring of African American faculty members including the launching of a new African American Studies cluster in the College of Art and Sciences. Once these faculty join the university we will work with them and our existing faculty to explore the feasibility of creating a Black studies minor and/or program. In addition, I will continue to advocate that the faculty consider and develop innovative changes to incorporate issues of race more broadly into our curriculum. We will also continue to finalize our fundraising strategies for diversity scholarships by the end of this academic year.

Today, I would like to announce my commitment to build a new Black cultural center at the UO. I have been convinced that, particularly in light of their small numbers, African American students need a place that will provide them with an opportunity to gather, reinforce their academic pursuits, enhance connective bonds that support recruitment and retention, and discuss their shared experiences and needs. We will work with our students to plan a structure that will provide them with a place of respite with programming that will promote their success. Fundraising for this project has already begun with a generous $250,000 gift from our alumnus and campaign chair Dave Petrone and his wife Nancy. The planning phase for design and construction will begin immediately.

We will also commence this spring with the renaming of Cedar Hall. We will solicit from our community nominations of names of individuals who have distinguished themselves in the fight for racial justice and equity. Our students will be involved from start to finish as we identify criteria and select someone who will embody the values of achievement, tolerance, and equity. It is my hope and expectation to bring this renaming decision to the Board of Trustees in June.

We will also move forward with plans to work with our students and faculty to ensure that the lessons we have learned about ourselves and our history are not lost. We will plan installations in both Deady and Cedar Halls that remind all visitors of their histories and of the continuing project of inclusion and diversity.

The work of making the University of Oregon a more diverse and inclusive university is important work and will not happen overnight. It will not be complete when we cut the ribbon on the Black cultural center. Nor will it be complete when we recruit more African American students and faculty members to Eugene. While I am grateful to the Black Students Task Force for placing racial equity squarely on our agenda, it will take all of our efforts—faculty and staff members, students, administrators, alumni, and community members—to make this university the inclusive place we want it to be. I am eager to get on with this work.

Sincerely,

Michael H. Schill

President and Professor of Law

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29 Responses to Pres Schill: Keep Deady, add Black Cultural Center

  1. Alec Boyd says:

    President Schill came to the right conclusion on Deady.

    I wish he would have made more of this teachable moment to discuss the acts in Deady’s history that warrant the conclusion he engaged in redemptive action, and to discuss the power of redemption which is so important in this divisive era. But, I infer he wanted to be seen as no trivializing the concerns, overblown though they were, which spurred the campaign against Deady.

    I will be very interested to see what the historical display ends up looking like. It should not, of course, be a whitewash of Deady, but I hope it properly emphasizes the evolution in his views and provides appropriate context.

    P.S. Hard to post on the Senate website if you have no UO password (e.g. an alumn) because you need an unspecified password to post as a “guest.” You might want to fix that.

  2. UO community member says:

    I am a foreigner with a mediocre understanding of US race relations. I truly sympathize with UO’s black community. I can’t imagine it is easy to fit in and feel comfortable in one of the least racially diverse states in America. I am in favor of programs and support services for UO’s black community.

    However, although just 2% of Oregon’s population is black, black issues seem to get a lot of attention on this campus. Will other minority groups get comparable help and recognition, or is this just a PR stunt?

    • Talk to a person of color says:

      A university should only respond to minority concerns if there are a lot of minorites in that state? Why?

      Is there a “threshold” proportion of black people that need to be around before their concerns are met? Do universities in states with larger minority need to be less responsive to the concerns of white students?

      Georgia Tech is 2/3 male. Should they be less responsive to women’s causes?

      • Conservative Duck says:

        “A university should only respond to minority concerns if there are a lot of minorites in that state? Why?”

        Why should the U of O attempt to correct every single perceived injustice in the entire universe? It is as impractical as it is outright childish.

        Should the UO respond to China’s invasion of Tibet? Why not? I think both Chinese and Tibetans are minorities in this state.

        Should the UO respond to Israel’s invasion of Palestine? Why not? I think both Palestinians and Jews are minorities in this state.

        • Dog says:

          I think it would fucking fantasmagorical if the UO were responsible for correcting all injustices in the Entire Universe? I would love to be a faculty member that that kind of institution.

          • Conservative Duck says:

            Which do you want U of O to correct, Palestine or Israel? China or Tibet? Who gets to decide which is the actual injustice? What about the dissenters? You can’t make all the people happy all the time. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. We gotta live in a practical, sustainable way here in the real world.

            And that funding to save the world from itself comes from…where exactly?

        • Talk to a person of color says:

          The historical treatment of African Americans is nothing more than a “perceived injustice?” Are you fucking serious?

          • Conservative Duck says:

            The historical treatment of African Americans is the only injustice in the world? That was my point entirely.

            Fucking serious.

        • PBF says:

          Conservative Duck, no one is asking U of O to attempt to correct every single perceived injustice in the entire universe. We are asking them to take care of the things that happen on campus.

    • honest Uncle Bernie says:

      A skeptic might suspect it is an attempt to head off trouble. Just as the decision to keep Deady is geared toward heading off trouble from other directions.

      Please don’t promote the idea that all other minority groups should seek such “help and recognition.” At $3 million a pop, that will add up to a lot of money. Hell, I might even demand recognition for my own peculiar minority identity.

      The University has an annual deficit rumored to be in the $20-30 million range. (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.) It can ill afford a massive increase in diversity/minority/grievance spending.

      I hope saying that is not a capital offense to the powers that be.

      • UO community member says:

        Haha. That wasn’t my intention.

        I think certain members of UOs student body need extra help to prepare them for school and life. In my experience the the top groups would be:

        – Students that come from historically marginalized ethnicities

        – Students that come from low socioeconomic backgrounds

        – Students with disabilities

        – Students that come from families that are neglectful and intolerant

        Do they each deserve a special facility? No.
        However, a environment for them to meet and collaborate is probably a good idea. In theory it should be cheap to set up too.

    • just different says:

      @comm member: You’ve probably noticed already that framing this issue as me-too for every minority group plays into right-wing mischaracterization of the purpose of a cultural center.
      The point is that certain groups have a long history in this country of mistreatment and systematic denial of basic rights. That legacy continues to this day, unfortunately. Black people are among those who have suffered the most injustice, so the need to counteract that is greater.

      • UO community member says:

        That’s not what I meant. I can see why some people would interpret it that way. I don’t think every group deserves an equal share of the budget. However, I hope certain groups aren’t forgotten.

        There are just as many Native Americans in Oregon as there are blacks. We don’t hear much about the needs they might have.

        I am a foreigner and am not well-versed in race relations. However, every thing seems to be framed black vs white. Just look at what’s happening with the Oscars.

        • Alec Boyd says:

          Is this black cultural center sort of intended to be like the Many Nations Longhouse that is already at Oregon? (I’d guess there’d now be such buildings for athletes, natives, and blacks.)

          My inference is that the longhouse is a glorified counseling center, tutoring facillity, and networking area designed to cater to students of a specific ethnic background, presumably because of a verifiable history of struggle by that group (not as to all individuals, but as a matter of group stats) as compared to other groups (again as a matter of group statistics, not as individuals).

          I don’t have a problem with helping those who are struggling the most. One way to identify struggling groups — which could be defined ethnically or by extra-curricular participation or by economic indicators etc. I hope that there are also equivalent programs to help individuals who don’t fall into the groups getting these buildings, indeed are part of groups which are achieving, but which have their own individual reasons for needing help.

  3. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    So UO has $3 million and valuable land to build a new black cultural center, whatever that entails, the need for which was not previously recognized. I would be interested to know where the money is coming from. What will be sacrificed to pay for this? What opportunity cost is there?

    • just different says:

      (1) “Not previously recognized” by whom? It’s been a recognized need for a long time.
      (2) Most of what will be sacrificed is the stalled progress on addressing the marginalization of Black members of the UO community.

  4. Liberal duck says:

    UO doesn’t already have a black cultural center in 2017?

  5. 3 Gottfredsons says:

    People are balking at the $3 million price tag? That’s insanely cheap by university standards. It’s just one year of salary for the football coach de jure. For the price of one Jaqua center (a building only open to a specific group of students) we could build dedicated student centers for 10 separate minority groups.

    If y’all don’t think black folks should have a space to feel safe, you should come right out and say it. Don’t pussyfoot around it by making a nonsensical cost argument in the hope it will make you sound less racist. It’s having the opposite effect.

    • Conservative Duck says:

      I don’t think there should be any “safe spaces” at UO, period. There are no safe spaces out in the real world after college, so what are we teaching them exactly?

      Coddling children is only doing them a disservice.

      • PBF says:

        The idea or removing all safe spaces entirely is a double edge sword. Originally, the intent of safe spaces was to create a space where LGBT students could speak openly about their experiences without fear of repercussion. There is a reason why most people advocating against safe spaces are not apart of the communities that have historically benefited from safe spaces.

        Furthermore, there are safe spaces out in the real world, we just don’t call them that. The LGBTQ friendly club is a safe space for members of that community. Local cultural centers are safe spaces for many newly arrived immigrants. Back in the day, the Black church was a safe space for the Black community. Part of the benefits of having these places is that they help you develop an ‘outside’ voice. During my undergrad years, I wanted to speak to a professor because I felt a profanity ladened critique of my paper – something none of the other students seemed to have – was racially motivated. When I went to ‘safe space’ of the AA Center to get advice about approaching the conversation, I was given advice about how to approach the conversation and it ended up being successful.

        • UO Matters says:

          Like.

        • just different says:

          Excellent post. I withdraw my stupid comment on the other thread. But I still wish we could find a phrase besides “safe space” because it has such a big red bullseye on it for anyone who wants to ridicule the basic human need for community and acceptance as infantilizing.

      • Reductio says:

        “There are no safe spaces out in the real world after college”

        This is the stupidest argument. “It doesn’t exist in the real world, ergo it shouldn’t exist in college.” Should we ban meal plans? Intramural sports? Dormitories? Tenured professors? Disability services?

        In the real world you get fired for expressing unpopular political opinions or criticizing your employer. Should we punish students for protesting against a university administration? Against the president?

        If not, what are we teaching them?

        Here’s the thing: college *itself* is a safe space. The entire institution is *designed* to coddle — it’s a place that encourages the free exchange of ideas in a safe environment, free from prosecution or persecution. However, many black students feel that those protections are not afforded to them, and so are asking for modest accommodations so that they can enjoy the same safety that is granted to the white students.

        What is the fight for “academic freedom” other than a fight for a “safe space?” Scholarship requires a safe space to flourish. But a free exchange of ideas is meaningless if some ideas are not freely expressed. Scholarship therefore requires the active encouragement of diverse ideas and perspectives.

    • honest Uncle Bernie says:

      3 — Thanks for the monitory advice — but I won’t pussyfoot around.

      The technique of bringing out the old “racist” name-calling whip on anyone who doesn’t agree with you doesn’t work with me. It’s working less and less with a lot of people. In fact, people are getting pretty damned tired of it.

      • 3 Gottfredsons says:

        I love this argument. People are “getting pretty damned tired” of being called racists when they say racist things. How hard that must be for them.

        Maybe we can create a “space” for these people where they are “safe” to express their beliefs without fear of repercussion?

        • just different says:

          If they find “racist” unpalatable, maybe instead describe them as “living in a white conservative bubble” or “out of touch with the reality of Black Americans”?

    • UO community member says:

      “$3 million price tag? That’s insanely cheap by university standards.”

      Dear god.

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