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University History

Interim Report

On February 26, 2021, the Presidential Commission on University History released its interim report.

Preamble

The University of South Carolina was founded in 1801 as South Carolina College. Located in Columbia, a block from the state's capitol, it was an institution of higher learning primarily for the Palmetto State's sons of the aristocracy.

From its inception, the university was the province of white men from wealthy families.

That hold was temporarily broken during Reconstruction, when African American men could attend from 1873 to 1877. In 1894, the university admitted white women for the first time. After decades of court battles, the university admitted African American men and women in 1963.

Throughout its two centuries, the university honored presidents, faculty, wealthy donors, military leaders and other favorite sons by naming campus buildings in their honor and by plaques and other commemorations on these buildings.

As they stand now, these commemorations as reflections of the past are isolated from the historical context that would provide fuller understanding of the lives of the individuals whose names mark the university landscape. This has become necessary, as today, many have argued that honoring certain individuals with named buildings and monuments on campus is offensive.

In addition, these names honor individuals with varied histories and disparate ways in which they treated minority groups, particularly those of African American descent. Also, many argue the commemorations now run afoul of the Carolinian Creed, adopted in 1990, which states the university should strive to embrace diversity, discourage bigotry, and promote an inclusive campus.

As background, the Carolinian Creed is inserted here as a statement of our core university values: 

As a Carolinian:

  • I will practice personal and academic integrity;
  • I will respect the dignity of all persons;
  • I will respect the rights and property of others;
  • I will discourage bigotry, while striving to learn from differences in people, ideas and opinions;
  • I will demonstrate concern for others, their feelings, and their need for the conditions which support their work and development.

While some consider these historical figures “men of their times” and acknowledge their contributions, others viewed and still view many of their actions, policies, values, and social stands as abhorrent. The efforts now being considered are the leading edge of what will be a broader, ongoing study and discussion about equity and inclusion on campus and the university’s historical and current interactions with the surrounding neighborhoods in the city of Columbia.

The recommendation for a Commission on University History was made to President Harris Pastides in 2019, before he stepped down. The recommendation was made by the University’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which was advisory to him on matters of campus climate, race and reconciliation, and related issues. Several other universities had authorized similar commissions. President Pastides knew that the work of the commission would mainly be done under the next university president and presented the recommendation to Robert Caslen when he assumed the role of University President.

On October 18, 2019, President Caslen, in one of his first actions as president, created the Presidential Commission on University History to lead a research effort aimed at helping the university better educate students, faculty, staff, visitors, and the local community about the complex history of the university, to include the contributions of marginalized and underrepresented people and/or groups whose voices have typically not been heard.

This effort was to include an academic and research examination of the historic context in which many of these individuals lived and their impact on the university, the state and the community around them. The effort would include a specific analysis of individuals and buildings and a broad acknowledgement of key groups and individuals that have contributed to the university over time.

The commission recognizes the enormity of its task. In the university’s 200-plus year history, we find no instance where a university building was renamed due to the questionable conduct, morals or actions of its namesake. In fact, we were challenged to find a time where this type of review occurred.

The time and energy required of members to complete a proper review is enormous. More than 70 entities have been identified for review. Moving forward from this interim report, the commission is prepared to narrow its initial focus on those buildings and areas deemed “most urgent and of concern.”

The commission reaffirms its work goes beyond the public focus of building renaming. The University of South Carolina is a mature, vibrant institution of higher learning with multiple platforms that capture its rich history. The commission endorses the continuation of this important work, to capture this rich, diverse and evolving history of the University of South Carolina.

Previous history collections do not fully capture the contributions of women, African Americans, Native Americans and other underrepresented groups to the foundation, growth and maturation of the university. We applaud President Caslen’s commitment to this endeavor. 

The documented history of this university is not perfect; the Horseshoe, for instance, was built by slave labor. Many periodicals do not reflect this. For a considerable period in the university’s history, women could not enroll. African Americans were also barred from enrollment. And the university’s growth negatively impacted historic, black neighborhoods adjacent to the campus. 

This history must be acknowledged and chronicled as a correct reflection of our university.


Commission Charge

When the president signed the initial charge, he invited 17 individuals with distinguished careers, discipline expertise and diverse perspectives to form the commission.

The president also reached out to three of these distinguished scholars and administrators to co-chair the commission. Dr. Valinda Littlefield, Associate Professor of History, President Emeritus Harris Pastides, and University Archivist Elizabeth Cassidy West all accepted that invitation and responsibility. 

Over the next 15 months, the commission has grown to its current membership of 33, all appointed by the president, for the unique and valuable expertise and perspective they could bring to the group.

The initial charge requested two specific outcomes:

  • An historical report to the president, also to be made available to the public; and, 
  • A list of recommendations that address new understandings that arise from the Commission’s research.

On August 20, 2020, the president issued an updated charge to the commission, benefitting from a year’s worth of work, and provided greater detail and context. 

The updated charge requested:

  • A description of meetings held, including dates and attendance
  • A summary of the commission’s work
  • Names of buildings reviewed and for each building reviewed provide:
    • Summary of why the building was reviewed
    • Historical summary of the individual for whom the building is named
    • An argument for retaining present naming
    • An argument against retaining present naming
    • Final commission recommendation on naming on the preponderance of merit
  • Also, provide a separate final naming report to include:
    • Ranked list of naming suggestions, which should include consideration of prominent African American South Carolinians
    • An historical biography for each individua
    • An argument for the individual recommendation
    • An argument against the individual recommendation
    • The commission’s final recommendation based on the preponderance of merit

Commission Members

The commission has three co-chairs and 30 other members, appointed by President Caslen.

The co-chairs are:

  • Valinda Littlefield, Associate Professor of History
  • Harris Pastides, President Emeritus
  • Elizabeth Cassidy West, University Archivist, South Caroliniana Library

The commission consists of three subcommittees:

  • Communications and Education, chaired by Elizabeth Cassidy West and Harris Pastides
  • Names on the Landscape, chaired by Andrea L’Hommedieu and Robin Waites
  • University History, chaired by Jennifer Gunter and Valinda Littlefield

The members of the commission are:

  • Dan Adams, University Board of Trustees
  • Christian Anderson, Associate Professor, Higher Education
  • Jessica Y. Allison, Administrative Coordinator to the Deputy Athletics Director for Internal Operations and Risk Management
  • Stacey Bradley, Senior Associate Vice President, Division of Student Affairs and Academic Support
  • Maggie Carson, President, Graduate Student Association
  • Melissa DeVelvis, Commission Research Assistant
  • Myisha S. Eatmon, Assistant Professor of African American History
  • Walter Edgar, Professor Emeritus, History
  • Jessica Elfenbein, Professor and Chair, Department of History
  • C. Edward Floyd, MD, University Board of Trustees Chairman Emeritus
  • Jennifer Gunter, Director, SC Collaborative on Race and Reconciliation
  • William Hubbard, Dean of the School of Law
  • I.S. Leevy Johnson, community leader, attorney with Johnson, Toal & Battiste, P.A.
  • Jonathan Leader, SC State Archaeologist, SC Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology
  • Andrea L’Hommedieu, Director of Oral History, University Libraries
  • Mercedes Lopez-Rodriguez, Chair, Latino and Hispanic Faculty Caucus
  • Derrick Meggie, Director, State Government & Community Relations
  • Carla Pfeffer, Director, Women’s and Gender Studies
  • Karen Roberts, Associate Vice President, Development Operations and Services
  • Issy Rushton, Student Body President
  • David Seaton, Special Advisor to the University Board of Trustees
  • Todd Shaw, Associate Professor, Political Science
  • Harry Singleton, Adjunct Professor, African American Studies Program
  • James Smith, Special Assistant to the President – External Affairs
  • David J. Snyder, Clinical Associate Professor of History and Global Studies, Faculty Principal, Carolina International House
  • Robin Waites, Executive Director, Historic Columbia
  • Robert R. Weyeneth, Professor, History
  • Hannah White, Student Body Vice President
  • Qiana Whitted, Professor of English, Director of the African American Studies Program
  • Julian R. Williams, Vice President, The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Support Staff:

  • Kareemah Hosendove
  • Shalama Jackson
  • Pam Pope
  • Melissa Spring
  • Matthew Warthen
  • Jeff Wilkinson

Work to Date

The commission has conducted numerous meetings, forums, and discussions to ensure “all voices are heard.” These sessions have been virtual, due to COVID-19 protocols, but have been invaluable to listen and reflect on voices from around the university community – faculty, staff, students, alumni and supporters.

We solicit public input, including oral and written comments, into all agenda and decision items. To date, public input has heavily weighted toward discussion of the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center. Three groups have presented to the full commission and a total of eleven public meetings (seven full commission meetings and four public listening sessions) have been held since its inception. Other meetings and listening sessions will be held in 2021 before our final recommendation is published.

Minutes of the meetings are attached for reference and video of the forums are available on the website. Given today’s highly charged public discourse, commission votes will not be published. All forwarded decisions/recommendations reflect group consensus and are not necessarily unanimous.

Commission co-chairs held a virtual meeting with University of Virginia Commission co-chairs as well as a follow up telephone conversation. A virtual meeting was also held with the co-chairs of the Commission at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.  All co-chairs and subcommittee chairs, as well as many other Commission members, have reviewed numerous university websites for similar initiatives.

There are three subcommittees – Communications and Education, Names on the Landscape, and University History – meeting at least once a month. Within the last two months, subcommittee meetings for Names on the Landscape and University History have been held every two weeks.

The co-chairs have met, on an average, five to six times a month. In addition, co-chairs attend one to two other subcommittee meetings.

We are confident that we will have an additional set of recommendations for your consideration on or around July 1. The recommendations will not cover the full set of university buildings, but focus on key buildings and locations identified below, selected with student, faculty and community input:

  • Barnwell College
  • Blatt PE Center
  • Gressette Room in Harper College
  • Hollings Library
  • Lieber College
  • Longstreet Theater
  • Maxcy College
  • McMaster College
  • Preston Residential College
  • Robert E. Lee Tree
  • Marion J. Sims Residence Hall
  • Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center
  • Thomas Cooper Library
  • Thornwell College
  • Wade Hampton College
  • Woodrow College

 

Updates from the Subcommittees

Communications and Education:
The commission initiated, with support from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the construction of an expanded website to house the updated university history when it is completed.

The site reflects a deliberate effort to provide a full view of the university and allows input from faculty, staff, alumni, and community. A template for a more expansive website is in development to add content on the university’s history and underrepresented groups, based on the template formed by the University History subcommittee.

Names on the Landscape:
The commission has identified more than 70 named buildings, rooms, monuments and grounds at the university that should be reviewed. 

Therefore, the group has elected to prioritize the review of approximately two dozen properties for possible renaming. This will allow for thoughtful, focused commission debate with public input. Our recommendation is that a newly established standing committee complete the full review.

Research Assistant Melissa DeVelvis has completed research and written detailed reports on five names: Cooper, Lieber, Thurmond, Hampton, and Thornwell. In addition, she has provided supporting primary documents and a bibliography for each person. The first five documents have been reviewed by university and outside historians and university political scientists. Dr. DeVelvis is currently working on additional names.

Criteria have been developed and approved by the full commission.

University History:
The University History subcommittee has developed a template for expanded history on underrepresented groups and their contributions to the University. This will be put on the website and can be updated as new information is presented.

Ten potential names were selected and prioritized for consideration of naming purposes. The subcommittee will consider another ten names from a list recommended by the USC Board of Trustees, at large community members, students, and alumni; many of these names are posted on the website.

Other work of the subcommittee includes:

  • Working with a commission member on a project to recognize the contributions of African American sororities and fraternities to the university.
  • Working with a student commission member to examine ways to develop and highlight work being done on African American campus sites. Possibilities include an app and YouTube video
  • Working with USC Press and co-editors Drs. Tyler Parry and Robert Greene, the African American Studies Program, International House at Maxcy, the Office of Student Affairs, and other partners to plan a possible in-person symposium as well as digital presence of programming for a 2021/22 publication on the African American Experience at the University of South Carolina.

The subcommittee is also considering ways to enhance the understanding of the experiences of African Americans on campus with the publication through University 101, University Ambassadors training, and the First Year Reading Experience. This publication is a result of a panel presentation of graduate and undergraduate student research for the 50th Commemoration of the desegregation at the University of South Carolina, held in 2013.  

To sustain the work of the commission, the subcommittee is preparing a proposal to suggest ways to promote the collection and dissemination of experiences of underrepresented groups/individuals. For example, we have discussed a cluster of classes researching and documenting (oral histories) the experiences of underrepresented groups/individuals (faculty/staff/students). Undergraduate and graduate classes could also work with the Library staff, former and current faculty, staff, and alumni to identify existing oral interviews and documents to help better understand diverse campus experiences. This could lead to potential classes teaching the university experience and including a more diverse perspective. Additionally, it would also increase the record holdings on these experiences. 

Work Remaining

The commission recognizes the importance of this report and is confident we will be able to provide recommendations for consideration on those buildings with names that are considered of greatest concern. 

This final report will be provided on or around July 1, 2021 with regular updates to the president in the months in between. The final report will not capture every building or structure on campus but will provide advice on the buildings and monuments using the established criteria on those names of concern.

The commission is extremely appreciative and confident in the members assembled and will:

  • Increase its meeting schedule, as appropriate to meet this final report submission deadline.
  • Continue to seek as many perspectives as possible, ‘all voices’, in written or verbal form and ensure that the community has multiple opportunities to share their views.
  • Continue its commitment to objectivity and transparency.
  • Work together to provide advice and recommendations of the highest quality of analysis, perspective and thought.

In considering any future naming opportunities or renaming of existing buildings, the commission will fully consider and prioritize the suggestion from the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees Chairman, Dr. C. Dorn Smith. As he assumed the responsibility for the Chairman of the Board, Dr. Smith provided the following request:

Today I am asking President Caslen to charge the Presidential Commission on University History to review and bring forward to the Board of Trustees a set of names of prominent African American South Carolinians who could be considered for honorific namings of University buildings in the near future. This list should include, but not be limited to, Richard Greener, Judge Ernest Finney, Robert Anderson, James Solomon, and Dr. Henrie Monteith Treadwell, among others. This is an issue that is past due.

The commission appreciates this additional charge and will fully consider these recommended names in all future analysis and discussions.

The final report will consist of the following elements, at a minimum:

  • Analysis of the names of concern, listed above, and with respect to the approved criteria
  • Advice for the President to consider in developing any recommendations to the Board of Trustees
  • Recommendations for additional investment of the University in the areas of university history, diversity, equity and inclusion

The commission remains fully committed to the Charge from the President and will work diligently, using the gathered expertise, the voices and perspective of many and the history of our university and community to provide the best report possible and to make the most positive impact possible on the University and the community.

Enclosures:


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