As you can see in the comments section, Dave Player, the guy who was quoted in the article I quoted and who I called “idiotic”, found this post and commented. And I want to be fair to him so I am linking to the original editorial piece he wrote, and am pointing out that the Daily Texan’s editorial staff disagreed with Player and fully supported renaming the dorm.
Now, for some choice quotes (which is mainly 90% of the article) from the original piece that show better what Player was arguing (the emphasis is my own):
The issue raises important questions regarding the nature of memorials and the University’s ability to self-reflect. Anyone who has followed the controversy surrounding the State Board of Education’s recent changes to the state social studies curriculum will recognize that interpretations of history have a definite impact on the present. To put it simply, the historical is political. However, despite the precedent set by the SBOE, the University has a responsibility to be a steward of its own history. To change the name of the dorm out of a fear of offending people in the present would only serve to promote ignorance within the community in regard to our University’s history.
First, it is necessary to acknowledge why the University originally named the dorm for Simkins. The Faculty Council recommended the dorm’s name in 1954, not because Simkins was a racist but because he taught in the law school for 30 years. Honoring an individual by putting his or her name on a facility does not mean the University is condoning every aspect of that individual’s character. George Washington has always been revered as one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, but does that mean we should tear down his statue on the South Mall because, like many of his peers, Washington was a slaveholder? Likewise, does the University have plans to rename the Malcolm X Lounge in Jester West? Regardless of his qualifications as a famed civil rights leader, in his early years Malcolm X often claimed white people were the devil and preached black supremacy. […]
Acknowledging those beliefs in the past is not equivalent to condoning those beliefs in the present. Likewise, maintaining Simkins Hall Dormitory does not mean the University honors every aspect of Simkins’ character or endorses all of his beliefs. What is important is that the University refuses to turn its back on its own history.
While it may be painful, especially for public relations, the University must acknowledge the darker chapters of our history. We must recognize that the 40 Acres have sheltered some bad people, as well as good people who made bad decisions. To rename the dorm out of the fear of offending individuals in the present is akin to the University looking back on its past, closing its eyes, putting its fingers in its ears and wishing it away.
Only by acknowledging the evils of our past can we truly appreciate how far the University has come. Professor Simkins and the 1954 decision to honor him should stand as examples to future students of times when this University has failed.
Put a plaque in front of the dormitory detailing Simkins’ reprehensible personal history. Explain to freshmen at orientation how the dorm came to be named and the shortcomings of previous faculty. But don’t treat this school’s history like some clay that exists to be reshaped into whatever self-image you momentarily desire.
For an institution whose purpose is to educate, such a move would only serve to make its student body blissfully ignorant.
Mr. Player, I just completely disagree. I don’t think that the University’s decision to rename the dorm constitutes turning its back on painful history. They are not trying to erase the past. They are simply acknowledging that the past is painful in the present. For me, renaming the dorm is a sign of how far the University has come. That those in charge are aware of the impact that earlier administrative decisions have on the current students and it is willing to alter them.
I really do appreciate your desire to not let the University use this re-naming as a way to forget the past, cover up the past, or wish it away. I agree completely on this point. I just don’t think that re-naming the dorm is doing that. In fact, the entire discussion over the re-naming has caused all of this history to be brought out, to be challenged, and to be judged.
Also, I am going to completely embrace your “the historical is political” as a personal professional mantra from now on.
So, I take back my “idiotic” statement and I apologize for the ad hominem attack. I didn’t do the research and read the full article. Shame on me for that. Lesson learned.
I appreciate you pointing this out to me.
If this was a conversation instead of this rather formal back and forth, I would simply have said, “Touche. I’m sorry. I like a lot of your points, but I still don’t agree.”
As a current Longhorn, I say do it. Take the name of a KKK Klansmen off of the dorm. Why is this a tough decision?
Oh, and David Player, you’re comments about this are idiotic.
Dave Player, associate editor for the Daily Texan student newspaper, wrote last month that the dorm was named after Simkins because of his 30 years teaching law, not because he was a racist.
The school could acknowledge Simkins’ past while keeping his name on the building, Player wrote.
“Honoring an individual by putting his or her name on a facility does not mean the University is condoning every aspect of that individual’s character,” Player wrote. “(If) a perfect character record is a requisite for honoring an individual then our campus would likely be composed of nameless buildings.”
Just because the dude taught law doesn’t mean he wasn’t also a violent racist. We can’t just overlook the latter because of the former. No one is asking for someone whose name ends up on a University building to have a perfect character. Just because we don’t expect someone to be flawless doesn’t mean that we have to be open to just anyone as long as they had a career at UT. People who oppose Simkins, his legacy, and his name are are simply asking that as students of this university, we don’t honor people who openly “admit to assaulting a black man, participating in a train robbery and sowing fear in Florida’s “black belt” as a masked night rider.”