The senator’s complicated legacy with race prompted calls for the statue’s removal.
A statue of U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright’s will remain at its current location on the University of Arkansas’ Fayetteville campus despite calls for its removal.
During a special meeting yesterday, the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees approved a resolution that allows the statue to remain in place, while directing the university to add context to the statue that affirms the institution’s commitment to racial equality “and acknowledges Senator Fulbright’s complex legacy, including his record on international affairs, Civil Rights legislation and racial integration.”
The sculpture became a point of contention following last summer’s launch of the #BlackatUARK movement, a student-led social media campaign highlighting racism at the university. This led to the creation of a committee that evaluated Sen. Fulbright and former Governor Charles Brough’s controversial legacies and their connections to campus.
In April, the committee recommended the removal of Fulbright and Brough’s names from the College of Arts and Sciences and a dining facility, respectively. The group also called for the removal of Fulbright’s statue from its location outside Old Main.
Former chancellor Joseph Steinmetz sent a letter to the board in May recommending Brough’s name be removed, the statue be relocated and Fulbright’s name remain with the college. Steinmetz resigned abruptly June 18.
The Black Student Caucus issued a statement via Twitter in response to the former chancellor’s recommendations, which read in part:
“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. 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.”
In a letter to the UA Board of Trustees dated July 26, UA System president Donald Bobbitt discussed Fulbright’s complicated history.
“Senator Fulbright’s presence on campus has become controversial because of his record of opposing Civil Rights legislation and racial integration,” Bobbitt said. “At the same time, the Fulbright name is known worldwide for its association with the Fulbright International Exchange Program, which promotes international cooperation and understanding among the U.S. and countries around the world through education.”
The program celebrates its 75th anniversary Aug. 1. Approximately 400,000 people from more than 160 have participated in the program since 1946.
In his letter, Bobbitt agreed with the recommendation that the college retain Fulbright’s name and to contextualize the statue “in a way that presents the full legacy of Senator Fulbright.” Act 1003, which was signed into law earlier this year, prevents the removal or relocation of monuments on public property unless the Arkansas History Commission grants a waiver. Therefore, Bobbitt recommended contextualizing the statue in its current location.
“If a path presents itself at a later time to consider the relocation of the statue that is consistent with state law, the board can revisit this issue,” he said.
Bobbitt submitted a resolution to the board recommending the contextualization of the statue and a second resolution calling for the removal of Brough’s name from the dining facility. The board approved both.
Acting chancellor Bill Kincaid thanked Bobbitt and the board in an email to the campus community last night for “weighing the considerations and listening to stakeholders.” The university’s job now, Kincaid said, is to continue to advance the larger conversation that resulted from concerns about the U of A’s connection to these individuals.
“From this conversation we determined we can and should be doing more to create a stronger sense of belonging among the campus community,” he said. “This commitment has taken the form of a number of new initiatives, targeting students, faculty and staff, outreach and engagement, and our overall campus climate.”
These new initiatives include converting University House to a space where traditionally unhoused Greek chapters whose members are mostly minority students can meet. The space, which is being called Unity House, is expected to open this fall. Additionally, the university is expanding the Multicultural Center, launching a new visiting faculty program for underrepresented faculty, and improving access for underrepresented undergraduates from Arkansas through a new scholarship program.
“Ultimately, I want you to know that the well-being of our campus community is always our highest priority,” Kincaid said. “When faced with disagreements, we won’t always agree on the best way forward. But we will always do our utmost to ensure that our students, staff and faculty know that we are glad they are here and want them to succeed in their work and their studies.”