University of Arkansas Chancellor Dr. Joseph Steinmetz supports the move to rename a main dining hall on the campus and relocate a statue of former U.S. Sen. William Fulbright, D-Ark., but opposes renaming the university’s Fulbright College of Art and Sciences.
Earlier this year a university-sanctioned committee reviewed requests to rename Brough Commons, the dining hall, and address the university’s connection to Sen. Fulbright. The committee voted to remove Brough’s name from the dining hall, remove the Fulbright statue from its location outside Old Main, and rename the university’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Brough (pronounced “bruff”) was Arkansas’ 25th governor and served from January 1917 to January 1921. Brough is connected to what is known as the Elaine Massacre in the summer of 1919.
Poor, black sharecroppers in Phillips County had tolerated low wages and terrible work conditions since the end of the Civil War, but after World War I ended they’d had enough. Tensions between blacks and whites simmered throughout the country during the summer of 1919. The disgruntled sharecroppers met late night Sept. 30, 1919, in a church in the small town of Elaine. A group of white men aware of the meeting went to the church. Gunshots were exchanged and a white law officer was killed. The tragic event is considered by some historians to be the worst racial clash in U.S. history that left five whites dead and potentially hundreds of blacks. Brough not only directed federal troops to Elaine but accompanied them when they rounded up and murdered some of the black residents.
In a May 19 letter to University of Arkansas System President Dr. Donald Bobbitt, Steinmetz agreed that Brough should no longer have a place on campus.
“While it is true that under his gubernatorial leadership, Arkansas became the only Southern state to allow women’s suffrage prior to the Nineteenth Amendment – and he publicly supported anti-lynching laws, something rare in the day – his governorship was significantly marred by his actions that led to one of the deadliest racial conflicts in history,” Steinmetz noted.
‘COMPLICATED’ FULBRIGHT ISSUE
Steinmetz would split the baby, so to speak, on the two recommendations related to Fulbright.
Fulbright served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives and served in the U.S. Senate from 1945 until his resignation in 1974. Fulbright is the longest-serving chairman in the history of the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations. The Fulbright Program was created in 1946 by Sen. Fulbright and is managed by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State. More than 400,000 “Fulbrighters” have participated in the program which now operates in more than 160 countries.
However, Fulbright had a mixed history with civil rights and race relations. Part of that history includes his opposition to the Brown v Board of Education decision, which brought a legal end to racial segregation in public schools. He opposed the Voting Rights Act, but would in 1970 approve a five-year extension of the act.
“There was a time when Black students were not welcome on our campus,” noted the university committee that made the three recommendations. ”J. William Fulbright, while Senator, voted against the interests of Black students, and supported values antithetical to the university. For many, the statue is a memorial to those segregationist values and a daily reminder to our Black students of that time.”
In his letter to Bobbitt, Steinmetz said the Fulbright matter is “complicated”
“On the one hand, critics have focused on his civil rights record. Specific concerns center on his decision to sign the Southern Manifesto, unwillingness to challenge Orval Faubus during the Little Rock Central High School Crisis, opposition to the Civil Rights Bills of 1957 and 1964, and vote against the Voting Rights Bill of 1965. On the other hand, we must also weigh his contributions as a president of the University and as a U.S. senator, including opposition to the Vietnam war and perhaps his greatest legacy, the Fulbright International Exchange Program, likely the most prestigious, far-reaching and important exchange program in the world. It reflects his commitment to internationalism and world peace,” Steinmetz noted.
Steinmetz recommended moving the statue to “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.” He also said moving the statue “will provide us an opportunity to honestly confront our history as a university and a state rather than simply hide from it by totally removing the Fulbright legacy from the campus.”
FULBRIGHT ‘VALUE,’ STUDENT RESPONSE
But the Fulbright name has value to the university, especially with its global connection to the Fulbright Program, Steinmetz argued.
“The name is not only associated with a person: It is also associated with a renowned program that has promoted international understanding through education while also impacting thousands of lives. I believe it is in the best interest of the university to retain this connection. We cannot and should not erase this history and connection to our campus, primarily for the educational value his presence brings to the campus.”
Following Steinmetz’s letter to students about his decision, the Black Student Caucus at the University of Arkansas posted this statement via Twitter: “No matter our strife our feelings, thoughts, perspectives are put on the back burner. It seems this old south university will continue to promote the ideology that black folks and their voices are second class. You should be ashamed.”
The Steinmetz letter to Bobbitt also included his plan to implement a four-pillar plan to “invest in programs and activities that advance our diversity, equity, inclusion and sense of belonging.” Following are two of the programs mentioned among the four pillars.
• Student Scholarship Program
The program is designed to improve access for underrepresented Arkansas undergraduate students, to international experiences and domestic experiential learning, and the focus will be on students from the Arkansas Delta who have Fulbright College majors. The goal is to launch the program this coming academic year.
• The Gordon Morgan Visiting Faculty Program
The program, yet to begin, is named after the university’s first African American faculty member, and a professor in the Fulbright College. The UA will seek board approval to name a signature faculty fellowship program designed to serve as a pipeline for the recruitment of minority and underrepresented faculty.
Talk Business & Politics reporter George Jared contributed to this report.