Dear University of Oregon community,
Like many universities throughout the nation, the University of Oregon is actively engaging in issues of diversity and inclusion on campus and using them as an opportunity for debate, learning, and community-building. Some well-publicized incidents this academic year have underlined the importance of our efforts to ensure that each and every student, faculty, and staff member feels included and comfortable learning and contributing here.
In this message, I want to focus on two decisions—I will not recommend to the Board of Trustees that it dename Deady Hall, and we will move forward with efforts to build a new Black cultural center at the UO. I am announcing these decisions now because our campus needs clarity about the status of Deady Hall and a clear path forward to focus on tangible actions we can take to improve the climate at the UO for students of color, specifically those who identify as Black or African American.
In the fall of 2015, the Black Students Task Force presented UO leadership with a set of 13 demands. One demand requested the following: “Change the names of all of the KKK-related buildings on campus. Deady Hall will be the first building to be renamed.” In February 2016, I empaneled a committee, chaired by Associate Professor Charise Cheney, to provide me with advice on a set of criteria that could be utilized in decisions for denaming buildings on campus. After receiving the committee recommendations, I appointed three historians to research the historical record of Dunn Hall and Deady Hall’s namesakes and answer a set of questions based upon these criteria.
On August 9, 2016, we released the historians’ 34-page report. More than 1,000 people—faculty and staff members, students, alumni, and community members—provided input on the report and numerous editorials, letters to the editor, and commentaries have appeared in the media.
On September 1, 2016, in a letter to the community, I established a set of principles that would guide my decision about whether to recommend the denaming of a building on campus to the Board of Trustees. They are as follows:
- Bigotry and racism have no place in our society or our university. Each of us must value each other based on individual merit and not the color of our skin, the social status of our parents, our gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or physical or mental ability.
- It is vital that all students at the University of Oregon feel valued and included as part of this institution. This is true for every member of our community, but particular attention needs to be paid to members of groups who often feel isolated and alienated as a result of their chronic underrepresentation on campus and the legacy of racism in this state and nation.
- We must be careful not to obscure our history regardless of whether we like what we find when we study it. The only way we can understand our present and prevent injustice from repeating itself is to study our history and learn from our past.
- The process of naming or denaming a building has symbolic value. But symbols are less important than actions that affect the material circumstances of members of our community.
- Naming a building and denaming a building are not identical actions and should be governed by separate decision-making processes and considerations.
- Naming a building honors an individual either for exceptional contributions to the university and our society or for exceptional generosity. While extremely meaningful, naming a building occurs regularly and is usually done contemporaneously with, or shortly after, the life of the person for whom a building is named. The very purpose of naming is to establish a durable honor that stands the test of time.
- Denaming a building, on the other hand, is an extraordinary event and should only occur in very limited circumstances. Many decades may have passed since the person whose name is on a building was alive, and information will typically be less complete than in a naming decision. Contemporary decision-makers will often be limited in their ability to evaluate the behavior of people who lived in circumstances and with cultural mores very different from our own. Denaming is also an act associated with ignominy and the destruction of reputation. We should normally be careful when we do this, particularly because the person involved will seldom be available to defend himself or herself.
- Finally, denaming threatens to obscure history and hide the ugliness of our past, which is contrary to our institution’s values of promoting lifelong learning and sharing knowledge. Therefore, the presumption should be against denaming a building except in extraordinarily egregious circumstances.
In that letter, I announced my decision to recommend to the Board of Trustees that they dename Dunn Hall, a building that commemorated a former professor of classics at the University of Oregon who also served as the Grand Cyclops of the Lane County Ku Klux Klan. The Board of Trustees unanimously adopted this recommendation on September 9, 2016. Dunn Hall was temporarily renamed Cedar Hall.
Because the issue of potentially denaming Deady Hall was more contested, I decided to delay a decision until UO students returned from their summer vacations so we could continue the conversation. Throughout the fall term I have continued to solicit the opinions of community members on the question of denaming Deady Hall.
In applying the principles for denaming to Dunn Hall, I found that the presumption against denaming was outweighed by the facts set forth in the historian’s report—namely that Frederick Dunn was the head of a hate group that supported racism and violence against African Americans, Catholics, and Jews, and was not a man for whom a building should be named on the University of Oregon campus. Matthew Deady, however, presents a more complicated case, the detailed facts of which are recounted my September 1, 2016, letter to campus and in the historians’ report.
In my view, the facts set forth in the historian’s report do not support overturning the presumption against denaming Deady Hall. Many of Deady’s historical accomplishments were exceptional. He was an active and respected legislator and political figure in the state. He was appointed by President Buchanan to be the first federal judge for the State of Oregon. He, more than any single person in the University of Oregon’s history, played a formative role in its creation and early years as a regent. It was his work in persuading Northern Pacific Railroad president Henry Villard to donate to the university that kept its doors open in the 1880s.
Of course, Deady was also a deeply flawed man. He held racist views which I find abhorrent and contrary to the principles of our university. His support of slavery prior to the Civil War cannot be excused, even if it was based upon his understanding of the “letter of the law” of property. Nor can his support for the 1849 exclusion act be ignored. The fact that Deady’s views and actions were shared by many Oregonians at the time he lived does not excuse them, although it does explain them.
Although Deady’s racist views did not abate after the Civil War, he fully embraced the new constitutional order. The historians characterize his change as a “metamorphosis.” Deady supported the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which guarantee to all equal protection under the US Constitution. While he never had the opportunity to issue an opinion involving African American civil rights, he was a protector of Chinese immigrants.
Deady does not represent an example of an egregious case justifying overturning the presumption against denaming. Unlike Dunn, he was not the head of an organization which espoused violence against vulnerable populations. Also unlike Dunn, his positive acts and importance to the nation, state, and university were noteworthy and of historical distinction. For all of these reasons, I will not recommend that the Board of Trustees dename Deady Hall.
The fact that Deady Hall will remain a symbol of racial intolerance for many of our students is troubling. Many students associate this past and our continuing to honor a man who was racially intolerant as evidence that the university does not take their concerns about diversity and inclusion seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As I have stated previously, bigotry and racism have no place in our society or in our university. It is vital that all students at the University of Oregon feel valued and included as part of this institution. While the process of naming or denaming a building has symbolic value, symbols are less important than actions that affect the material circumstances of members of our community. It is these actions that we now must focus on.
We have already implemented half of the demands of the Black Student Task Force, including the creation of the Umoja Academic Residential Center, the creation of an African American Opportunities Program and accelerated efforts to recruit African American students to the university, and the hiring of African American faculty members including the launching of a new African American Studies cluster in the College of Art and Sciences. Once these faculty join the university we will work with them and our existing faculty to explore the feasibility of creating a Black studies minor and/or program. In addition, I will continue to advocate that the faculty consider and develop innovative changes to incorporate issues of race more broadly into our curriculum. We will also continue to finalize our fundraising strategies for diversity scholarships by the end of this academic year.
Today, I would like to announce my commitment to build a new Black cultural center at the UO. I have been convinced that, particularly in light of their small numbers, African American students need a place that will provide them with an opportunity to gather, reinforce their academic pursuits, enhance connective bonds that support recruitment and retention, and discuss their shared experiences and needs. We will work with our students to plan a structure that will provide them with a place of respite with programming that will promote their success. Fundraising for this project has already begun with a generous $250,000 gift from our alumnus and campaign chair Dave Petrone and his wife Nancy. The planning phase for design and construction will begin immediately.
We will also commence this spring with the renaming of Cedar Hall. We will solicit from our community nominations of names of individuals who have distinguished themselves in the fight for racial justice and equity. Our students will be involved from start to finish as we identify criteria and select someone who will embody the values of achievement, tolerance, and equity. It is my hope and expectation to bring this renaming decision to the Board of Trustees in June.
We will also move forward with plans to work with our students and faculty to ensure that the lessons we have learned about ourselves and our history are not lost. We will plan installations in both Deady and Cedar Halls that remind all visitors of their histories and of the continuing project of inclusion and diversity.
The work of making the University of Oregon a more diverse and inclusive university is important work and will not happen overnight. It will not be complete when we cut the ribbon on the Black cultural center. Nor will it be complete when we recruit more African American students and faculty members to Eugene. While I am grateful to the Black Students Task Force for placing racial equity squarely on our agenda, it will take all of our efforts—faculty and staff members, students, administrators, alumni, and community members—to make this university the inclusive place we want it to be. I am eager to get on with this work.
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law