There is now an official policy regarding the removal of the names of buildings on UNC's campus, after a 12-1 vote during Thursday's Board of Trustees meeting.
The policy comes after the BOT rescinded its self-imposed moratorium on renaming buildings in June. The moratorium was put into place in 2015, when Saunders Hall — named for former Ku Klux Klan leader and UNC graduate William L. Saunders — was renamed Carolina Hall.
The BOT gathered Thursday morning in Kerr Hall, in UNC's Eshelman School of Pharmacy, with in-person members wearing masks and distancing, and some members and UNC administrators joining virtually. At the meeting, Vice Chairperson Gene Davis read from the policy and said part of upholding UNC's values includes a willingness to change or otherwise contextualize names on campus buildings or spaces.
"In order to be a place where inclusive transformation is valued, we must be willing to submit our history and traditions to scrutiny and thoughtful assessment, consistent with the high standards of integrity and free and open inquiry and debate," Davis read from the policy.
At its meeting last week, the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward identified four buildings — Aycock Residence Hall, Josephus Daniels Student Stores, Carr Building and Ruffin Residence Hall — and recommended the chancellor remove the names of Charles B. Aycock, Josephus Daniels, Julian S. Carr and Thomas Ruffin and Thomas Ruffin Jr. Charles Aycock and Josephus Daniels were both leaders and contributors to white supremacy campaigns, including the 1898 Wilmington Massacre; Julian Carr was a member of the KKK and spoke at the dedication of Silent Sam about whipping a Black woman; and the elder Thomas Ruffin was a former trustee from 1813 to 1870 and one of the largest slaveowners in North Carolina.
A group of students in History/American Studies 671: Introduction to Public History, taught by professor Anne Mitchell Whisnant has identified 25 different buildings on campus, including the four suggested by the commission, that are named after slaveowners or people involved in white supremacy.
Though the BOT did not make any decisions to remove names at its Thursday meeting, the new policy will require someone looking to change a name of a building or public place to submit a written proposal to the chancellor, which includes:
- The specific conduct by the namesake that puts in jeopardy UNC's integrity, mission or values
- The character of the namesake and scope of the harm to the University by continuing to honor this person
- The sources and strength of evidence that supports the allegations
The allegations need to be based on scholarly historical evidence and will be evaluated on several different principles that will make the case stronger or weaker.
According to the policy, stronger cases will include the following criteria:
- The named person was alleged or found to have carried out a serious violation of state or federal law before or after the naming recognition
- The conduct was central to the named person's career, public persona or life
- Allegations regarding the behavior in question are supported by documentary evidence that displays both the scope and intentionality of the named person's actions
- Honoring a namesake puts in jeopardy the University's integrity and impedes its mission of teaching, research and public engagement, or significantly contributes to an environment in which some people within the University community are excluded from opportunities to learn, thrive and succeed.
- The removal of the name would not suppress viewpoint diversity or fail to acknowledge the historical complexity or holistic contributions of the namesake to UNC or the public.
Criteria that would make a case weaker include when:
- The namesake's offensive behavior or viewpoints were "conventional at its time," and other parts of the named person's life and work are particularly noteworthy to the University or larger community.
- Despite evidence of objectionable behavior or views, there is also evidence of some evolution or moderation of the named individual's behavior and/or views.
Once the chancellor has reviewed the request, they will refer them to a committee — including faculty, staff, students, alumni and members of the board — appointed by the chancellor for the purpose of looking into the claims. The committee can then invite comments from "all interested members of the University community, on or off campus, including the original honoree or their heirs" in the development of a written report.
The committee's report will then be given to the chancellor, who will review "the strength of the scholarly historical evidence" before deciding whether to make a formal request to the BOT to remove the name. If the chancellor decides a name change does not meet the criteria, they will "(i) provide a response explaining the decision to the requesting party; and (ii) initiate appropriate action if the University community would benefit from increased contextualization in connection with the campus building or public space."
"Removing a naming designation is a serious step that cannot be taken lightly or hastily," the policy states. "It should occur only under exceptional and narrow circumstances."
An amendment to the policy was proposed to put a plaque on renamed buildings stating what the former name was and providing a history of the space, but the amendment was withdrawn over concerns of keeping a name in some form that had been deemed repugnant enough to remove.
Davis asked Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz to immediately adopt the policy and begin to hear requests, and said that he is "confident" the board would call an emergency meeting to act on any recommendations.
At a media availability after the BOT's meeting, Guskiewicz said the process to name a building was separate from the process to remove a name, which is what the new policy focuses on. Requests to name a building must go through the Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Naming University Facilities and Units, before being approved by the chancellor and the BOT. The policy regarding naming buildings can be found here.
“I think today was a very important step forward for the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill," Guskiewicz said. "I'm pleased with the decision to adopt this policy that will help move us forward and allow consideration for the renaming of buildings and spaces on our campus over the next several years. I'm pleased with the progress we're making, and we're going to move forward with the first four names that have already been presented to me.”
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