re­gents OK chang­ing dorm’s name

Dorm named for Klan leader will now be called Creek­side

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Nau­reen Khan

Uni­ver­sity of Texas em­ploy­ees re­move the sign at Simkins Res­i­dence Hall on Thurs­day af­ter the UT Sys­tem Board of Re­gents agreed to re­name the dorm, orig­i­nally named for a for­mer pro­fes­sor and Ku Klux Klan or­ga­nizer.

The Uni­ver­sity of Texas Sys­tem Board of Re­gents unan­i­mously gave the green light to change the name of Simkins Res­i­dence Hall on Thurs­day.

UT Pres­i­dent Wil­liam Pow­ers Jr. re­quested last week that the re­gents vote to re­name the dor­mi­tory, named for a UT law pro­fes­sor who also was a Florida Ku Klux Klan leader, to Creek­side Res­i­dence Hall and the ad­ja­cent area to Creek­side Park.

“The his­tory be­hind the name is not in line with to­day’s UT and its core val­ues,” said Re­gent Prin­tice Gary, who made the mo­tion for the vote at the re­gents’ meet­ing. “On a pos­i­tive note, we took ad­van­tage of this op­por­tu­nity to re­state the uni­ver­sity’s po­si­tion re­gard­ing the im­por­tance of di­ver­sity and in­clu­sive­ness.”

The re­gents’ vote and Pow­ers’ request came af­ter weeks of de­lib­er­a­tion by a 21-mem­ber ad­vi­sory group that was charged with mak­ing a rec­om­men­da­tion on the mat­ter.

“It is a pow­er­ful sym­bol of UT’s progress,” said Gre­gory Vin­cent, vice pres­i­dent for di­ver­sity and com­mu­nity en­gage­ment, who led the com­mit­tee.

Work­ers on Thurs­day were al­ready re­mov­ing the sign for Simkins Res­i­dence Hall, which sits near Waller Creek. UT of­fi­cials Thurs­day could not im­me­di­ately say how much it will cost to re­place signs, update maps and make other changes as­so­ci­ated with the re­nam­ing.

The all-male dor­mi­tory was built in the 1950s to house law and grad­u­ate stu­dents. It is one of the older dor­mi­to­ries on cam­pus and re­quires “ma­jor ren­o­va­tion,” ac­cord­ing to UT’s 2005 Res­i­dence Hall Mas­ter Plan.

Be­cause the fu­ture of the dorm is un­cer­tain — it is pos­si­ble it even­tu­ally will be de­mol­ished — Vin­cent said the uni­ver­sity wanted to keep the name neu­tral.

He also de­fended the lengthy process of dis­cus­sion that pre­ceded the of­fi­cial de­ci­sion. In ad­di­tion to the four closed meet­ings held by the ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee, UT hosted two pub­lic fo­rums in June to so­licit in­put.

“We thought that this was an im­por­tant ed­u­ca­tional moment for our cam­pus,” Vin­cent said.

Wil­liam Ste­wart Simkins taught at the School of Law from 1899 un­til his death in 1929. Be­fore his ten­ure as a pro­fes­sor, he served as a Con­fed­er­ate colonel in the Civil War and or­ga­nized the Ku Klux Klan with his brother in Florida. He ad­mit­ted to as­sault­ing a black man and par­tic­i­pat­ing in a train rob­bery.

The name of the dorm caused a furor af­ter de­tails of Simkins’ per­sonal life his­tory were re­vealed in an aca­demic jour­nal in May by Tom Rus­sell, a for­mer UT law pro­fes­sor who now teaches at the Uni­ver­sity of Den­ver.

UT is not the first to deal with the is­sues of race and his­tory. Brown Uni­ver­sity in Rhode Is­land re­leased a re­port in 2006 con­clud­ing that some of the school’s early bene­fac­tors were in­volved in the slave trade, and it de­cided to erect a me­mo­rial in re­sponse.

At UT, stat­ues of Con­fed­er­ate lead­ers, in­clud­ing Jef­fer­son Davis, pres­i­dent of the Con­fed­er­ate States, and Robert E. Lee, the chief gen­eral, still stand on the South Mall.

“I do hope this does set the tone for other uni­ver­si­ties to look at their his­to­ries,” Vin­cent said. “We have set a stan­dard for how to han­dle these types of sit­u­a­tions.”

Jay Jan­ner

Wil­liam Pow­ers Jr. UT pres­i­dent re­quested that the re­gents vote to re­name the dor­mi­tory.

Jay Jan­ner

UT em­ploy­ees re­move the Simkins dorm sign Thurs­day af­ter the Board of Re­gents voted to re­name the dor­mi­tory Creek­side.

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