Like many in the Carolina community, members of the American Association of University Professors were dismayed to read about our university leadership’s use of the Presidential Commission on University History as “cover for administrators’ inaction.”
In an article titled “The Name-Change Charade,” reporters for The Chronicle of Higher Education demonstrated that President Harris Pastides, who led the early work of the commission, never intended to act on its recommendations.
We call on Pastides to respond publicly to the revelations in the Chronicle article. Students, faculty, staff and alumni of the university deserve to hear why he chose to focus his efforts on public relations instead of arguing for the meaningful change demanded by the commission's findings.
The Heritage Act hamstrings the University of South Carolina’s ability to change the names of buildings — that power rests with the South Carolina General Assembly. Nothing in the act prevents the university from asserting its commitment to racial justice and to an honest reckoning with the past, however.
The commission recommended renaming 11 buildings. Pastides could have supported that recommendation and sent it to the board of trustees, who, in turn, could have made the commission’s compelling case to the legislature. Some members of the General Assembly might not share our values, but that is no reason why we should abandon them.
If members of the assembly insist, for instance, on retaining the name of Thomas Cooper, who asserted that “a population of free blacks is the most idle, debauched, thievish and insolent [group] that we have ever witnessed in the United States,” for the university’s main library, let them say so. We do not have to spare them the obligation to explain why they believe that Cooper and others on the commission’s list deserve their current places of honor on our campus.
The Chronicle article also illustrates the administration’s lack of support for meaningful action apart from changing the names of campus buildings. An initially proposed $25 million investment in diversity efforts was whittled away to zero new funding. Why?
Instead, Pastides crafted a letter that led The Post and Courier to cite the university’s current expenditures as if they were bold responses to the recommendations of the presidential commission.
Meanwhile, we have received no updates on the steps the letter promised would be taken “immediately.” Although the President touts the decisive action we can expect from an “Implementation Group,” the university’s vice president of communications acknowledges in the Chronicle article that the group has “no particular timeline” for the completion of its work.
Many faculty, staff and students volunteered for hard work as members of the commission because they believe that the University of South Carolina will be a stronger institution when it acknowledges the racial injustice of its past and takes meaningful action to produce a more just future.
Perhaps Pastides has explained his stance privately to the members of commission. We believe, however, that the entire university community deserves a public statement, and we encourage Pastides to address the issues raised by the Chronicle’s reporting.
Carol E. Harrison
President, AAUP at USC Columbia
Professor, Department of History