Presidential Commission on University History
May 4, 2021, 4 – 5:30 p.m.
This meeting of the Presidential Commission on University History at the University of South Carolina Columbia campus took place virtually via Microsoft Teams. Harris Pastides called the meeting to order at 4:00pm. He provided a brief welcome and reminded the commission members that the next meeting was scheduled for June 2 and another would be scheduled a few weeks later for voting on recommendations, leading up to submission of the report around July 1.
Roll call – Pam Pope
Commission Attendees: Jessica Allison, Stacey Bradley, Maggie Carson, Melissa DeVelvis, Myisha Eatmon, Jessica Elfenbein, Edward Floyd, Jennifer Gunter, Andrea L’Hommedieu, Jonathan Leader, IS Leevy Johnson, Valinda Littlefield, Mercedes Lopez-Rodriquez, Derrick Meggie, Harris Pastides, Carla Pfeffer, Eve Ross, Issy Rushton, David Seaton, Todd Shaw, Harry Singleton, James Smith, Elizabeth West, and Julian Williams.
Absent: Dan Adams, Christian Anderson, Walter Edgar, Alex Harrell, William Hubbard, Karen Roberts, Robin Waites, Robert Weyeneth, Hannah White, and Qiana Whitted.
The Town Hall on April 12 provided an opportunity to hear from approximately a dozen community members who submitted questions via the chat feature in Teams.
The Forum/listening session on April 26 had no campus or community participants registered to speak, despite the event’s wide promotion.
- University History – Jennifer Gunter and Valinda Littlefield
The subcommittee continues to meet regularly and is writing 500 word informational biographies for names being recommended for renaming or for future naming opportunities. Some members will be meeting with Melissa Spring of USC IT about expanding the history information included on the University History website.
The subcommittee met with Adam King, Director of the SC Institute of Archaeology, and he, along with others, will be submitting a proposal for a class, a graduate intern and possibly a post doc. Connor Harrison, Geography professor, is proposing new course descriptions in cartography and urban history related to Wheeler Hill and Ward One.
Gunter read from a letter written by the bishop of St James AME Church: “It’s a done deal with the lots on Henderson Street.” She reported that the owner of the blue house is considering gifting his house to church as well.
Pastides mentioned a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article about the University of Richmond and asked that it be shared with the Commission. The university’s administrators came up with an idea of “braiding” that is not uniformly supported. One example was that of an early university president whose name was on a building, which was “braided” or hyphenated the with name of a young enslaved individual who, after emancipation, became a journalist and community leader.
- Names on the Landscape – Andrea L’Hommedieu
The subcommittee has met twice since the last Commission meeting, on April 13 and April 27. There are thirteen names which are being researched and reports written about them. Eleven research files are completely finished, one is still being discussed and one research file will be completed by early next week. There are two more buildings to be discussed and voted on before they will be sent to the full Commission in early to mid-June. The next subcommittee meeting is May 14 and Hollings and Gressette will be reviewed.
James Smith asked about the research process, whether there is an opportunity to review and provide input on these names and buildings. He also asked if information about the naming processes, including circumstances and reasoning for the naming, was included in the research.
L’Hommedieu responded that all files are in Teams and Gunter suggested that they be reviewed as soon as possible, so members aren’t overwhelmed by the amount of research that has been done. West noted that because naming process has been handled less formally at times during the last fifty to one hundred years, exact reasoning and circumstances has not been found in some cases.
J Williams thanked the subcommittees for their research – the footnotes and other documentation show an extremely high levels of research, effort and commitment, which are all greatly appreciated.
- Communications and Education – Elizabeth West.
West reported that the subcommittee had a joint meeting with the History subcommittee about overlapping areas of work, as well as proposals for educational signage and activities on campus while building renaming is held up by the Heritage Act. In addition to working with Melissa Spring to expand information on the website, other ideas such as increased signage, including QR codes for additional background material (UGA has done this), building naming history-related classes and seminars, and other possible projects were discussed.
Eatmon complemented DeVelvis on the quality and quantity of work she’s done in writing up the research. DeVelvis announced that she will be an assistant professor at Augusta University next semester but hopes to remain involved in the Commission’s work. Committee members added their appreciation for her work and congratulated her on this new position.
Pastides reminded the Commission members that there is a plethora of detailed research material waiting for review on the Teams site. On June 2, the subcommittees will make their final reports and a path forward will be determined. Voting on the recommendations will be done a few weeks after this June 2 meeting, then the draft report will be complied for review before the first of July. President Caslen has made it clear that July 1 is a working date and will be pleased to get the report on that day or around that date. At the June 2 meeting, the process for presenting the report to the Administration will be discussed.
Pastides will invite President Caslen to speak with Commission on June 2 to share his expectations for the report. The Commission’s work will move quickly, due to the good effort that has been made so far. The report will be widely viewed and perhaps nationally covered. He suggested closely monitoring the legislative movement with respect to the Heritage Act and will ask USC’s legislative liaison and Commission member Derrick Meggie to speak on the Heritage Act on June 2.
Todd Shaw requested that public input be broadly summarized in the Commission report executive summary and that letters, emails and testimony be included in the appendix. These actions will illustrate the broad range of opinions considered by the Commission, will ensure transparency and will dignify those who provided input. Pastides remarked that taped information from the various meetings and listening sessions will be preserved as well.
Meeting was adjourned by Pastides at 4:38 p.m.