What was formerly known as Simkins Hall Dormitory — named for a U. Texas Law professor and a Ku Klux Klansman— is now Creekside Residence Hall.
The UT Board of Regents decided to implement President William Powers Jr.’s suggestion to rename the dorm Thursday.
University officials, students and media personnel shuffled into the conference room of the Ashbel Smith Building to hear the verdict on the residence hall’s renaming. Board of Regents Chairman Colleen McHugh moderated the meeting, and the dormitory was the first item on the list. McHugh said that regents ought to question the effect their decisions will have in both the present and the future.
Regent Printice Gary proposed the motion to rename the dormitory, which was subsequently unanimously supported by the board.
“In my opinion, the process was thoughtful and expeditious and included input from all the key stakeholders — students, faculty, administrators, alumni and community representatives,” he said. “Particularly, I salute the students and their participation through the leadership of their student government organization.”
With that, the Simkins Hall debate was over.
Powers said after the meeting that the regents’ decision was in line with what he expected.
“To be honest, this was an easy decision,” he said. “I think from the start, we knew where this was headed, [and] it’s the right thing to do. I approve of what the board did today.”
The controversy began when former UT law professor Tom Russell released his academic paper at the 24th annual Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights. In the paper, Russell referred to former UT law professor William Stewart Simkins’ involvement with the KKK, which led to a firestorm of media coverage. Student Government, along with the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, held two forums for students, faculty and the public to give input on whether the University should rename the dormitory.
“Well, I think process matters,” said Gregory Vincent, vice president of diversity. “I think it’s important because this name was first approved by a faculty vote that we needed a process to think about renaming it. It’s very important on our campus to get input.”
Some students were not convinced that holding the meetings during the summer was the best way to get a holistic view of student opinion.
“I think that they should have waited to make the recommendation and to do the process until the student body was back so they could have gotten a full understanding of what the general feel of the campus was,” government sophomore Garrett Fulce said. “Right now, it kind of seems like it was just rushed.”
Although Fulce doesn’t think the outcome would have been different, he wishes students could have been involved more in the process.
Vincent said that the cost of removing all the vestiges of Simkins’ name from the dormitory was “minimal.” The sign was removed from the building Thursday and is being stored in the Facilities Services Complex.
In light of the renaming of the dormitory, UT faces the task of moving public opinion forward on issues surrounding race and diversity on campus.
“One of the many great things about working at the University of Texas at Austin is that we are the pacesetter in many things, and I do hope that this does set the tone for other universities to look at their history,” Vincent said.
A complaint voiced at the forums was that by removing Simkins’ name, the University is attempting to avoid its history and ignore that it involves racism. Russell believes that by shedding light on the issue, the exact opposite was achieved.
“People talk about erasing [and] whitewashing history, [but] the history is now more evident than it ever has been. People now know so much more about William Stewart Simkins than they did in early May before this all broke,” he said. “People say, ‘Don’t take away my history, even though I didn’t know about it.’”
Vincent said that renaming the dormitory was not erasing history but rather removing the aspect of honoring a person whose character is out of line with University standards. He added that Simkins’ picture is still in the law library along with other professors’ and he remains in history books.
“The way to move the campus ahead is [to say that] history is history,” Powers said. “This was the right decision, but you move ahead. And we need to keep fixed on moving ahead by putting programs in place that help diversify the campus.”