UNC-Chapel Hill faculty petition to end moratorium on renaming university buildings

UNC-Chapel Hill students and community members hold signs illuminating the history of building names on campus.

Prominent faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill are petitioning to rescind the UNC Board of Trustees’ self-imposed moratorium on renaming of historical properties.

Students and faculty have pushed for the renaming of buildings at UNC-Chapel Hill for decades, arguing men and women who owned slaves, fought for the Confederacy to preserve slavery and wrote white supremacist tracts after slavery was abolished do not reflect the university’s values or deserve to be honored.

As with the movement against the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam, they faced significant resistance from university administration, the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and some members of the UNC Board of Governors.

But in 2015, they scored a qualified victory. The Board of Trustees agreed to rename Saunders Hall. The building was named for William Saunders – a Confederate colonel, UNC trustee and leader of the state’s Ku Klux Klan. The trustees faced mounting pressure to remove his name, but stopped short of renaming it for Black anthropologist and novelist Zora Neale Hurston, as many students preferred. Instead, they opted for the more neutral “Carolina Hall,” and also imposed a 16-year moratorium on renaming buildings on campus.

In August, Policy Watch reported members of the UNC Board of Trustees — including Chairman Richard Stevens — were open to a discussion of ending that moratorium.

Stevens likened his shifting perspective on UNC’s building names to his views on the Silent Sam Confederate monument, which was toppled by protesters.

“I’ve had the benefit of more frequent discussions with students and with faculty of color,” Stevens said. “I understand much better now their opposition to Silent Sam and now my position is I don’t think it should come back to McCorkle Place.”

On Monday, six prominent faculty members took a step toward getting that new discussion started at the highest level, delivering a petition to new UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

Those faculty members are:

* Malinda Maynor Lowery, Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of the American South

* Eric Muller, Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor in Jurisprudence and Ethics at the UNC School of Law

* Michelle Robinson, Association Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of American Studies.

* Karla Slocum, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Institute of African America Research, Thomas Wills Lambeth Distinguished Chair in Public Policy

* William Sturkey, Assistant Professor of History

* Erika K. Wilson, Associate Professor, Director of Clinical Programs at UNC School of Law


“This moratorium was unwise at the time it was imposed, and it now promises to vex the work and the chances of success of an important campus commission examining the university’s racial history and future,” the petition reads.  “The Board should rescind the moratorium in order to remove the cloud of complexity and confusion it has placed over the campus’s consideration of important matters about race and history.”

UNC History students have created an online database and map of map of buildings named for enslavers and white supremacists at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The buildings named include: Alderman Residence Hall, Avery Residence Hall, Caldwell Hall, Daniels Student Stores, Graham Residence Hall, Hamilton Hall, Mangum Residence Hall, Manly Residence Hall, Manning Hall, Mitchell Hall, Morrison Residence Hall, Murphey Hall, Parker Residence Hall, Phillips Annex, Phillips Hall, Playmakers Theatre, Spencer Residence Hall, Swain Hall, Vance Hall, Venable Hall and Winston Residence Hall.

The petition delivered to Guskiewicz Monday does not call for the immediate renaming of any buildings.

“To rescind the moratorium is not to issue an immediate invitation to the renaming of buildings and other spaces,” the petition reads. ” The Board of Trustees always retains its authority to make final and binding determinations about such things.”

“What rescinding the moratorium will do is remove artificial restrictions on intellectual inquiry and on the free and frank discussion of approaches to reconciling with our past and building our future,” it reads.

Read the entire petition here, including a link for UNC faculty, staff, students and postdocs who would like to add their names.

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