UT pres­i­dent rec­om­mends dump­ing Klans­man’s name

Re­gents will con­sider call for new moniker on Simkins Res­i­dence Hall

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Joshunda San­ders

Simkins Res­i­dence Hall, named for a Florida Ku Klux Klan mem­ber, should be re­named some­thing more neu­tral, Uni­ver­sity of Texas Pres­i­dent Wil­liam Pow­ers Jr. said in a state­ment Fri­day.

Pow­ers’ de­ci­sion fol­lows weeks of de­lib­er­a­tion by a 21-mem­ber ad­vi­sory group about whether to re­name the dor­mi­tory. Pow­ers said he would sug­gest re­nam­ing the res­i­dence hall and the ad­ja­cent park Creek­side Dor­mi­tory and Creek­side Park at the meet­ing Thurs­day of the UT Sys­tem Board of Re­gents, which must ap­prove the ac­tion.

The for­merly all-male dorm, built in the 1950s to house law and grad­u­ate stu­dents, sits near Waller Creek.

Simkins taught at the School of Law from 1899 un­til his death in 1929. But be­fore that he was a Con­fed­er­ate colonel dur­ing the Civil War, and after­ward, he had ties to the Ku Klux Klan. He said in a Thanks­giv­ing Day speech on cam­pus in 1914 and in an ar­ti­cle two years later in the Al­calde, the alumni mag­a­zine, that he never

Con­tin­ued from A drew blood as a Klans­man.

But Simkins ad­mit­ted as­sault­ing a black man, par­tic­i­pat­ing in a train rob­bery and sow­ing fear in Florida’s “black belt” as a masked night rider.

“The im­me­di­ate ef­fect upon the Ne­gro was won­der­ful, the flit­ting to and fro of masked horses and faces struck ter­ror to the race,” Simkins wrote.

Re­assess­ing the res­i­dence hall name came up in May af­ter the Amer­i­can-States­man asked uni­ver­sity ad­min­is­tra­tors about the name fol­low­ing the re­lease of a schol­arly ar­ti­cle ex­am­in­ing Simkins’ record.

The ar­ti­cle, writ­ten by Tom Rus­sell, a for­mer UT law pro­fes­sor who works at the Uni­ver­sity of Den­ver, was posted in an on­line jour­nal, the So­cial Sci­ence Re­search Net­work. The ar­ti­cle de­tailed the re­sis­tance by UT ad­min­is­tra­tors and re­gents to in­te­gra­tion in the 1950s and 1960s de­spite two land­mark U.S. Supreme Court rul­ings against seg­re­ga­tion.

“Simkins en­gaged in il­le­gal, ter­ror­ist be­hav­ior dur­ing Re­con­struc­tion and doesn’t merit hav­ing a build­ing car­ry­ing his name,” Rus­sell said in an in­ter­view at the time.

Pow­ers’ de­ci­sion is in line with the rec­om­men­da­tion made by the ad­vi­sory group, which started meet­ing in June. The group held four meet­ings, and gath­ered in­put through e-mail and two pub­lic fo­rums co-spon­sored by the Stu­dent Govern­ment.

Gre­gory Vin­cent, UT’s vice pres­i­dent for di­ver­sity and en­gage­ment, formed the ad­vi­sory group of fac­ulty mem­bers, stu­dents, staff mem­bers, alumni and civic lead­ers at Pow­ers’ request.

“The uni­ver­sity’s cur­rent nam­ing pol­icy ad­dresses re­nam­ing in cases when the name com­pro­mises pub­lic trust and the uni­ver­sity’s rep­u­ta­tion,” Vin­cent said in a state­ment. “In light of these guide­lines, the ad­vi­sory group strongly be­lieves that re­nam­ing is the proper course of ac­tion.”

In the an­nounce­ment Fri­day, Pow­ers said: “I value and ap­pre­ci­ate the con­sul­ta­tive process that led to this de­ci­sion and the en­gage­ment of the com­mu­nity, stu­dents, fac­ulty, staff and alumni in this is­sue. An in­sti­tu­tion like ours is shaped by its his­tory, but it need not be en­cum­bered by it.”

Reached by phone Fri­day, Rus­sell was ef­fu­sive in his re­sponse to the news. “Most aca­demic writ­ing drops into the sea like a peb­ble,” he said. “I’ve been, frankly, flat­tered by all the at­ten­tion that my paper has got­ten, and I’m very pleased it has led to this ex­cel­lent out­come.”

Rus­sell said that while Simkins’ past had been well­known for years, he be­lieves it was the power of so­cial me­dia and blog­ging that el­e­vated the is­sue and spread it quickly across the nation.

“I’m pleased with Pres­i­dent Pow­ers’ de­ci­sion, and I sup­port this idea of just nam­ing the dorm gener­i­cally,” Rus­sell said. “The uni­ver­sity will stop hon­or­ing an un­de­serv­ing crim­i­nal by re­nam­ing it. … Peo­ple have acted as if be­cause his name is on the build­ing that we can’t con­tinue to talk about his his­tory. Peo­ple have ar­gued that it’s eras­ing his­tory, but it’s not.”

Analysa Cantu, a 21-yearold ad­ver­tis­ing ma­jor at UT, joked that both the pro­posed name and the pre­vi­ous name were lack­ing some­thing: “They could both be bet­ter.”

On a more se­ri­ous note, Cantu added: “A dorm is a dorm no mat­ter what its name is. But the name should be ap­pro­pri­ate.”

ralph Bar­rera AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Kay­lan Hunt rides past Simkins Res­i­dence Hall, whose name­sake en­gaged in a train rob­bery and raids on black com­mu­ni­ties af­ter the Civil War.

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