The following is a transcript of my charge to the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context during the initial meeting held on August 16, 2016:
Welcome! Thank you for being here today and thank you for agreeing to serve. The work of this committee is one of our highest priorities and will ensure that we continue to be a welcoming place for all.
When deciding the best way to approach contextualization efforts on our campus, we considered a number of factors: The most important was to seek input from the university community. Another was to conduct a scan of the national landscape to identify best practices employed by exemplary universities engaged in similar contextualization efforts.
These approaches helped guide the foundation of the CACHC as a committee based upon defined criteria of expertise and experience rather than upon a constituent representation model. I think it is important to recognize that we are on the forefront of institutions of higher education in the nation to systematically and vigorously undertake contextualization efforts — we are in the company of the likes of Yale, Princeton, Georgetown, Harvard, and Brown among others.
Let me take a moment to acknowledge Ms. Rose Flenorl and Dr. Donald Cole for their willingness to serve as co-chairs. You will hear more from Don and Rose in a little while, but I want to express my gratitude and complete confidence in their ability to guide this committee. They are both highly respected members of our university community and possess a wealth of experience and expertise.
You will remember that on June 10, I wrote a letter to the UM community (which is in the resource materials in your binder) about our efforts related to the 2014 Action Plan, initiated by former chancellor Dan Jones. From the very beginning of my tenure as chancellor, as I emphasized at the Faculty Senate meeting on February 9, I have been and continue to be committed to the six recommendations of that plan. Much has been accomplished, as is referenced in my June 10 letter and listed on the context.OleMiss.edu web site. You have a copy of the summary of the progress to date.
The work of this committee is focused upon recommendation 5 of that plan, namely, contextualization. It is important to acknowledge and commend all the groundwork this university has done over the last several years on recommendation 5. From the renaming of Confederate Drive to Chapel Lane to the plaque at the front entrance of the Pavilion recognizing Coolidge Ball, the first African-American student-athlete at the university, much has already been achieved toward our important goals.
Last summer, then-interim chancellor Morris Stocks appointed a four-person committee to undertake four specific contextualizations: the Confederate Statue at Lyceum Circle, Vardaman Hall, Johnson Commons, and Lamar Hall. Their work on the Confederate Statue was done and approved last fall, and the plaque arrived and was installed in mid-March 2016.
However, as I wrote in a letter to the community on March 29, we received a great deal of input from the community related to the lack of awareness of the committee and its mission, insufficient opportunities for community input, and suggestions to change the wording of the plaque. After meeting with the committee and a group of faculty and students, the committee expressed interest to consider further input and suggestions from the UM community to help determine whether the plaque should be revised and, if so, how.
After considerable input and study, the committee made its final recommendation and the work on the Confederate Statue is now complete. The new plaque that will replace the one currently on display just arrived and will be installed within the next two weeks. I would like to express my appreciation to Drs. Cole, Mullins, Ross, and Sansing for spearheading that contextualization effort on the Confederate Statue. They have provided us a good foundation for the CACHC to build upon for the remaining sites that can benefit from contextualization. As members of this committee, you represent the next step in continuing this important work.
Now, I would like to turn our attention to the official charge for the CACHC. The committee charge deals specifically with recommendation 5 of the 2014 Action Plan and has two parts:
- The initial task of the committee will be to recommend which additional physical sites on the Oxford campus (beyond those already completed) should be contextualized, so as to explain the environment in which they were created or named. Potential additional sites include:
- buildings (for example, Vardaman Hall, Johnson Commons, and Lamar Hall);
- street names.
- Once the recommendations have been reviewed by my office and the list of sites is finalized, the committee will proceed with designing content and format to contextualize the designated sites.
In order to most effectively and efficiently undertake the charge, the work of this committee will commence today and proceed through this academic year in order to produce a single, comprehensive report of all recommended contextualizations by March 2017.
I know you are aware of the sensitive nature of the work of this committee, and for the sake of honest discussion, it is imperative to respect confidentiality in committee discussions. Additionally, some of the committee’s recommendations may require certain approvals or changes in procedure before being fully implemented. Such matters are especially sensitive and further reason for confidentiality in the course of discussions. At the same time, the co-chairs will be responsible for updating the community on a regular basis as to the general status of the work.
Let me talk briefly about the formation and responsibilities of this committee. Over the course of several weeks in the spring, I conducted listening sessions with numerous groups representing students, faculty, staff, and alumni as well as other valued members of the university community. The conversations were focused around four key questions:
- What do you think are important criteria for the expanded committee members?
- What would you consider is optimum size for the committee?
- What other groups should I ask for advice?
- What are other ways to engage the community?
Key themes emerged from these conversations that shaped the composition of the CACHC.
You were nominated and selected for this committee based upon five key criteria that came up in the listening sessions:
- Expertise in relevant subject matters such as history, sociology, English, law, or race relations;
- A demonstrated track record of consensus building and collaboration;
- A deep understanding of the UM community and culture;
- Experience in commemoration and contextualization of historic sites; and
- A commitment to a process that is inclusive, respectful, civil, candid, transparent and honors the UM Creed.
The work of this committee is an academic project. That point about this work being an academic project is an important one: None of one of you is here because you represent a particular constituency group. You are here because collectively you have the expertise and background in these five criteria to contribute strongly to this academic project.
Another thing I heard loud and clear during the listening sessions was the need for community input and engagement. It is paramount to the integrity and success of our contextualization efforts. While individual committee meetings are necessarily confidential, our process should always be guided by the UM Creed and will benefit from broad platforms for public input and interaction. Please be sure to utilize transparent and inclusive mechanisms, such as CACHC Town Hall and surveys. For example, in order to address the first charge, a natural mechanism to ensure that no sites are overlooked is to solicit ideas from the community through a combination of in-person venues and electronic submission. The second charge could make similar use of community interactions.
I encourage you in your work to employ a variety of methods, including the formation of subcommittees, which can include outside expertise as needed on a project-by-project basis.
There will likely be places along the journey where seasoned and wise leaders will have valuable historical perspectives, especially related to the engagement of stakeholders and the explanation of both the process and the product. At the University of Mississippi, we have access to an amazing wealth of knowledge and experience, and I have asked several of our most noted individuals to serve as a resource to you, including:
- James Campbell, recent campus speaker and noted historian at Stanford University;
- Robert Khayat, UM chancellor emeritus;
- John Palmer, technology entrepreneur and former ambassador;
- William Winter, former governor of Mississippi and namesake of our Institute for Racial Reconciliation.
I urge you to take the time to benefit from their thoughts on these issues. My office is available to help coordinate a time for them to meet with you.
We have a number of additional resources available to the committee that we will go over in more detail later in this meeting. Briefly, these include:
- Context website and email;
- Context research document;
- Staff support; and
- UM centers and institutes.
In closing, I would like to reiterate the merit and significance of this committee and the work you are about to embark on. Our university has long been committed to honest and open dialogue about its history and how to make our campuses more welcoming and inclusive. As part of the university’s role in transforming lives and communities, we must successfully come to grips with difficult aspects of our history. It is a continuing journey to learn from this history and be a national model for moving forward. The CACHC is the next step in that journey.
I am happy to answer any questions before I turn things over to Dr. Cole and Ms. Flenorl.