Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz shared a petition with Richard Stevens, chairperson of the Board of Trustees, regarding a 2015 moratorium that temporarily froze the renaming of historical buildings, monuments, memorials and landscapes on campus, according to Director of UNC Media Relations Joanne Peters Denny.
The petition, which has about 450 signatures, calls for Guskiewicz to ask the BOT to revoke the moratorium. The moratorium halted discussions about renaming campus properties until 2031. About 30 buildings on campus have namesakes with ties to white supremacy.
These namesakes are not just donors, said William Sturkey, professor in the UNC Department of History and one of six professors who submitted the petition.
“Not all of the campus buildings are named after people who donated money,” Sturkey said. “Some of them are named for people who people, at that particular time, just thought it would be a good idea to venerate these people by naming a building for them.”
Guskiewicz created the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward in early January, which will be "charged with recognizing the University’s complicated history and promoting reconciliation,” Peters Denny said.
The formation of the Commission led the professors to reconsider the moratorium, Eric L. Muller, professor in the UNC School of Law and co-author of the petition, said.
“It’s time to relieve that body of this artificial, arbitrary constraint,” Muller said.
The new Commission deserves the chance to succeed in order to have conversations and deliberations about the racial past, present and future of the University, the petition says.
“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.
Chuck Duckett, a member of the Board of Trustees who was involved in the creation of the 2015 moratorium, said the petition doesn’t have anything to do with the Commission doing its job.
“I think they’ll do their job well, and do what’s intended, which is to explore the entire history of the University and tell it openly and honestly,” Duckett said. “That’s what these resolutions in 2015 did.”
Sophie Litwin, a graduate teaching assistant in the UNC School of Education, said she signed the petition because she believes it would be unfortunate to wait until 2031 to rename buildings on campus.
“If the moratorium continues to be in effect, I think that’s a really big example of us going backwards,” Litwin said.
Stevens said in a statement that the Board of Trustees is prepared to "carefully consider recommendations" from the Commission, which is set to meet for the first time Friday.
Peters Denny said Guskiewicz will respond directly to the petitioners.
“We in 2020 don’t have to abide by the naming principles that people had 100 years ago when the campus was completely racially segregated,” Sturkey said.
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