The Black Student Caucus says the chancellor’s recommendations do not go far enough.
University of Arkansas chancellor Joseph Steinmetz is calling for the relocation of Senator J. William Fulbright’s statue on the Fayetteville campus. Steinmetz also announced Fulbright’s name will remain with the College of Arts and Sciences while Charles Brough’s name will be removed from Brough Commons.
The #BlackatUARK movement, a student-led initiative highlighting racism at the university, led to the formation of a committee to evaluate Fulbright and Brough’s controversial legacies. Last month, the committee released its recommendations, which included removing Fulbright’s name from the College of Arts and Sciences, removing his statue from its location outside Old Main and removing Brough’s name from Brough Commons.
Steinmetz issued his response to those recommendations May 19 in a letter to University of Arkansas System president Don Bobbitt, who shared it with the UA Board of Trustees Thursday. The chancellor also emailed his letter to the campus community yesterday.
“These decisions do not come easily and I fully recognize that people will feel a range of emotions from elation to disappointment,” Steinmetz stated in his letter. “Ultimately, the goal and desire is to create a healthy dialogue, to minimize hurt feelings and challenge false dichotomies — that you are either against Fulbright and Brough or else you are a racist. It is just more complicated than that.”
Getting two of their three demands met is not a victory, the Black Student Caucus said. In a statement on Twitter, caucus members questioned why they must compromise with racism.
“If someone has told you you have wronged them, you don’t get to debate how much or if you actually did it or not,” caucus members stated. “The feelings of your students are being compromised for your donors and your checkbook. Call a spade a spade. If you won’t listen, the least you can do is lose the pageantry and admit you believe we hold no value in comparison to the white money that owns you.”
Steinmetz’s request that the board allow the university to remove Brough’s name from Brough Commons stems from the former governor’s role in the aftermath of the 1919 Elaine Massacre. In its list of recommendations, committee members said, “Brough praised the restraint of the white community, blamed Black people for the violence, and empowered those who oversaw the unjust judicial process that sent scores of Black men to prison and condemned 12 men to death.”
The case of former Sen. Fulbright is more complicated, Steinmetz said. Critics have focused on his civil rights record, specifically his decision to sign the Southern Manifesto, unwillingness to challenge Gov. Orval Faubus during the Little Rock Central High School Crisis and his opposition to the Civil Rights Bills of 1957 and 1964.
However, it’s important to consider his contributions as university president and U.S. senator, Steinmetz said, including his opposition to the Vietnam War and the creation of the Fulbright International Exchange Program, which “reflects his commitment to internationalism and world peace.” Since 1957, nearly 400,000 scholars around the world have participated in the program and had the opportunity to study in another country.
There’s no simple math for weighing Fulbright’s shortcomings against his virtues, Steinmetz said.
“While Senator Fulbright fell short on integration and civil rights, scholars, biographers and former staffers have largely tied his shortcomings to the demands of political expediency of the times,” he said. “For them, his votes did not reflect a hardened personal racism toward African Americans. Instead, they were more a reflection of his need to appease a voting constituency that was not ready for social change.”
Fulbright’s impact on the lives of people fighting for basic civil rights cannot be ignored, so it is appropriate to temper praise while remembering the thousands of lives impacted for the better through the Fulbright Program, Steinmetz said.
While the chancellor decided to leave Fulbright’s name attached to the College of Arts and Sciences, he issued a formal request to the board “to move the statue to another appropriate campus location.” The passage of Act 1003 by the 93rd General Assembly earlier this year may complicate matters.
The Arkansas State Capitol and Historical Monument Protection Act states “a historical monument shall not be relocated, vandalized, damaged, destroyed, removed, altered, renamed, rededicated, or otherwise disturbed.” However, it does allow entities to petition the Arkansas History Commission for a waiver.
“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,” Steinmetz said.
In his letter, the chancellor said a better way to signal a commitment to creating an environment where community members feel a sense of belonging is to invest in programs and activities that advance diversity, equity and inclusion.
Some of these initiatives include launching a scholarship program focused on improving access for underrepresented Arkansas undergraduate students, developing a recruitment plan for diversifying faculty and staff, expanding the Multicultural Center, and completing a monument commemorating the “Divine Nine” and the role of the campus’ National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternities and sororities.
Chancellor Steinmetz’s letter can be read in full here.