University of Texas at Austin President Will Propose Removal of Simkins Name from Residence Hall

July 9, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas — William Powers Jr., president of The University of Texas at Austin, will propose to the University of Texas System Board of Regents the removal of the name from the university's Simkins Residence Hall, endorsing a recommendation by a 21-member advisory group, it was announced today (July 9).

"I accept and endorse the recommendation of the advisory group, and I will seek the approval of the Board of Regents for removal of the name from the residence hall," said Powers. "I value and appreciate the consultative process that led to this decision and the engagement of the community, students, faculty, staff and alumni in this issue."

Powers will propose renaming the residence hall and adjacent park Creekside Dormitory and Creekside Park at the July 15 meeting of the Board of Regents, which must approve the action.

The hall, which was built in the 1950s to house male law students and graduate students, was named for William Stewart Simkins, who taught at the School of Law from 1899 until his death in 1929. Simkins had ties to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) after the Civil War.

"The university's current naming policy addresses renaming in cases when the name compromises public trust and the university's reputation," said Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, vice president for diversity and engagement, who formed the advisory group at Powers' request. "In light of these guidelines, the advisory group strongly believes that renaming is the proper course of action. By his own admission, Simkins engaged in violent behavior against African Americans. These were actions taken outside of the law. Furthermore, Simkins wrote and spoke freely about these activities during his 30-year tenure at the university, promoting the Klan to students and others on campus.

"The group also believed that having a residence hall honorifically named for a founder of the Florida KKK is inconsistent with the core values of this university and with President Powers' strategic goal to increase diversity on campus. During the past four years, we have made significant progress diversifying the faculty, staff and student body and creating an inclusive campus climate."

The advisory group deliberated during a series of four meetings held in June and gathered input through an e-mail address and two public forums co-sponsored by the Student Government.

"An institution like ours is shaped by its history, but it need not be encumbered by it," Powers said. "While reflecting on the past and learning from it, it is important to focus on the future. The University of Texas at Austin is now among the most diverse institutions of higher education in the nation, and we will continue to invest in ensuring this is a place of opportunity for young people from all racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds."

For more information, contact: Leslie Blair, Div. of Diversity & Community Engagement, 512 232 4621;  Robert Meckel, Office of the President, 512-475-7847.

34 Comments to "University of Texas at Austin President Will Propose Removal of Simkins Name from Residence Hall"

1.  ProfTRussell said on July 9, 2010

I am very glad to hear of Bill Powers's decision.

2.  Jake Leighton said on July 9, 2010

I am not saying I necessarily support the dorm name but how did it take 60 years for us to get offended? Why are people suddenly so offended by everything in our culture the past 5-10 years and never before?

3.  Dorinda Rolle said on July 9, 2010

Jake, we were offended before! No one had the decency or saw the need to make the change before now. Sometimes we have to wait until the time is right to make changes. Even though we abhorred Prof. Simkins' involvement with the KKK, it does not mean his contributions to UT did not deserve to be honored. Now, that time is over. He will go down in history for all of his contributions - good and bad - in light of today's standards and understanding of how his actions oppressed African Americans.

4.  UTstudent said on July 9, 2010

This is definitely a step in the right direction. I applaud my university for doing this. It shows we are willing to change in response to our environment, but it also shows that the change will be gradual and procedural. Thanks to all who joined in this effort. I hope the Board of Regents understands the importance of this event and that they agree to the change.

5.  Eddie Ge said on July 10, 2010

I'm all for changing the name of the dorm, but at least name it after someone - I would honestly rather live in a dorm called Simkins than Creekside. And I do live in Simkins.

6.  Eric M. Larson said on July 10, 2010

Decisions to rename historical buildings should not be taken with the goal of rewriting history, and only after careful study as to the implications. The reason is that today, political correctness is in many instances as narrow and invidious as the thing purported to be offensive, and sometimes more so. As times, laws and politics change, it seems to me that balancing the past against the inevitable changes that the future brings is an important responsibility. The reason is that the past and symbols of it can perpetually educate us, sometimes not comfortably, but I think that's the essential point. In my judgment, there should be a plaque of suitable length, placed in a prominent place in what is now Simkins Hall, stating the reasons for the removal and presumably subsequent renaming. Such a plaque would be a more appropriate way to transition the name of Simkins Hall to some other name; to do otherwise would, I think, be sweeping legitimate history under the rug of political correctness. A public and permanent explanation is warranted, in my view.

7.  rbblum said on July 10, 2010

So, the "issue" is about one old building having been designated the name of a KKK member named Simkins who died in February 1929 . . . YET, just within the past two weeks, Obama eulogized Robert Byrd while Clinton excused him (Robert Byrd) for being a Grand Wizard of the KKK (at a youthful age of 24) as well as being the sole U.S. Senator who filibustered the Civil Rights legislation (at the age of 47). . . AND, in the honor of Senator Robert C Byrd, there are more than 100 office buildings, bridges, roads, dams, courthouses and highways prominently carrying his name (Senator Robert C Byrd). . . The only interesting aspect to the entire "issue" is that the character of a nation begins with the local community.

8.  Jodie Flint said on July 11, 2010

Don't assume that the offense just appeared after 60 years: what has happened is that the offense finally has a voice--and a place to be heard.

9.  JV said on July 11, 2010

This is uncalled for. UT's history is what it is. Being offended by things that did not offend your parents and grandparents is something fostered by a hidden agenda, folks.

10.  Charles Martin said on July 11, 2010

The dorm's name is a piece history and if we hide the history we are ashamed of we are being hypocrites and not telling the real truth of our history. I think the name should remain as a symbol of the mistakes we made as a society and the changes we made for equality. When we start to change the history we don't like then we start to lose who we are and where we come from. Remember, there are people out there who say that six million Jews didn't die in the Holocaust.

11.  Delbert Sampson said on July 12, 2010

Walter Cronkite died July 17, 2009. He was the voice of UT public service announcements: "What starts here changes the world."

He went to The University of Texas at Austin, where he worked on the Daily Texan and became a member of the Nu chapter of the Chi Phi Fraternity.

So they could change the name on the building in his honor on the one year anniversary of his death.

12.  Bas Bleu said on July 12, 2010

@ Jake - I'm sure that for a long time, there were many people who knew the history and were offended. That doesn't mean anyone will pay them any attention. And certainly wouldn't have paid attention to them 60 years ago. The question we should ask is why it took this long to get media attention and university action. So, it's late, but I'm glad it's finally here.

13.  Ed Berger said on July 12, 2010

This is a disgrace by The University of Texas at Austin.

I find it completely disingenuous by the president of the university and his diversity officer to claim the name-changing of Simkins Hall makes the university more welcoming. Powers seems to have no problem with the "Malcolm X Lounge" in Jester Center being unwelcoming to white students, especially those visiting the campus for the first time at orientation.

The advisory group he composed was a joke, with no one to speak in favor of the building remaining Simkins Hall.

As best as I can tell, when 17 of the members appointed to the advisory group were minorities and two of the white members were not even from Texas, it was a foregone conclusion of what the outcome would be. He now speaks of accepting and agreeing with the advisory groups recommendation?

Changing history or not even recognizing the history of The University of Texas at Austin or the heritage of Texas seems to be the status quo for a president from Cal Berkley and a diversity officer from Ohio. But then why would they?

14.  Cliff L said on July 12, 2010

Don't stop there. Rename Robert E. Lee Hall, Littlefield and any/all of those God-awful confederate memorials, too. The South lost as well as they should've. Good triumphed over evil. Stop fighting the Civil War. There is no glory or honor in glorifying a "nation-state" that chose to uphold the evil institution of slavery.

Robert E. Lee hall should be renamed Earl Campbell Hall. Gen. Lee never shed one drop of blood for UT. Earl shed plenty. Even you "defenders of the status quo" can't argue with that. You folks know who you are.

Anyway, I'll never donate a dime to UT as long as the university continues to glorify dead and undeserving Confederate "heroes." It is VERY offensive to me.

15.  Scott Aulds said on July 12, 2010

So Professor Tom Russell writes that renaming The University of Texas at Austin dorm named after William Simkins "would be a good first step." Well, professor, how do you feel about renaming all those bridges, highways and buildings after the late Senator Robert Bryd?

16.  MJ Caldwell said on July 12, 2010

Excellent food for thought from all previous commentators, all very well taken. If Mr. Simkins, a trained attorney and law professor worked outside the law, including violence, his name should be removed from the dormitory yesterday. As a revered Texas law professor who encouraged membership in the Klan and glorified violence to his students and all eligible white citizens, there is no accounting for the damage he was able to effect both in Texas as well as in Florida and beyond. That is also his legacy, for better or worst and needs to be added, albeit almost one century after his death to the good for which he is already credited and remembered.

Perhaps if less honor and more scrutiny had been paid to Mr. Simkins' legacy earlier, then the senseless killing of a James Byrd might have been avoided - Mr. Bryd was the African American male dragged to death behind a pickup truck in rural Texas in the latter part of the 20th century. Then-Governor George Bush would not even meet with his (Mr. Byrd's) family. The relative lack of public outrage in Texas to this insensitivity speaks volumes as both a sad testimony to the times, the value of some but not all human life and an indication of what can happen if knowledgeable people do not speak up and follow through. Governor Bush went on to become President Bush and the James Byrd incident never came up again.

One further point which needs to be made about the late Senator Robert Byrd (and others like him, e.g. Justice Hugo Black) is that unlike Mr. Simkins, Senator Byrd (and Justice Black) renounced the Klan and worked within the law to effect positive change.

This so-called "revisiting of history" is not only beyond "political correctness," it is quite simply the right thing to do. Past generations help no one by only embracing illusions under the guise of "tradition" that ignore the whole record. Future generations will thank President Powers and the advisory group for good common sense, honesty, fairness, justice and ethics, all timeless, sometimes forgotten component parts of the American character and value fabric.

17.  Paul Ashe said on July 13, 2010

I don't know, I like rustic old stuff. Texas was started by a bunch of misfits looking for a second chance. They never really claimed to be anything else. Just because something is sitting around the campus does not imply that it is highly honored. I haven't seen anyone highly honoring the old oil rig on MLK, it is just interesting that's all. What about the Tower massacre? I don't think it is highly honored. No one renamed the Tower. They didn't even patch all the bullet holes.

Why try to whitewash past events and people with a bunch of mass media programmed social standards and stuffy wordy rhetoric. As if that would really change the past. Simkins is dead. He does not care what you think or if you rename his old building or kick over his head stone. The dude is dead. In the past, he was an important person around here.

Why not just add your own history here? There is still plenty of room in the history books. Why go rip out the pages of a pasted and dead generation just because you don't agree with them?

Why not let the achievements of both generations stand side-by-side. Then, a future generation will be able to see, understand and judge for itself.

My two cents, for what it is worth.

18.  Betty B Wang said on July 13, 2010

Signing someone’s name to a building is an honor and it passes on the spirit of this person from generation to generation. The memories of the people in the entire world won’t be so hazy -- the shocking truth constituted "crime against humanities" engaged by KKK. How many people agree that a state-owned university should uphold the spirit of William Simkins, a past KKK member? How many people agree that an international well-known academic community like The University of Texas at Austin should honor a member of an assassination party? I am glad about the decision made by the president of The University of Texas at Austin to remove William Simkins’ name from the dorm.

19.  Dave said on July 13, 2010

Life goes on...relax and the future will be even more gracious of this change. Well, at one time non-whites were not allowed in this great university. That changed. Women were not allowed and that changed. (At A&M, it was an all -male school for a long time.) Society evolves to the better. So, relax. Simkins won't wake up from the graves to haunt us. Times have changed. But the only suggestion is -- make it a policy that those whose names/busts are on UT are subject to change when someone is involved in activities we aren't proud of. Some major donor could be involved in a criminal activity -- which means his/her name is off, but money remains. It should be a part of the contract with the endowment or MOU.

20.  L. Kelley said on July 13, 2010

Is Ku Klux Klan membership the only reason Simkins is having his name removed? Why ignore the virulent racist Robert Lee Moore for whom RLM, the science building at UT, is named and who refused to teach Blacks. Why ignore the Six Pack, the central hub of the university; a memorial to the Confederacy with statues of Robert E. Lee, Albert Johnston, Jefferson Davis, Woodrow Wilson, Jim Hogg and John Reagan?

"Blacks are mongrels... incapable of free self-government" -- John Reagan

"I stand for the national policy of exclusion" -- Woodrow Wilson

"Slavery is a divine blessing" -- Jefferson Davis

Of the North, "fanatical, idolatrous Negro-worship" -- Albert Sydney Johnston

None of these statues has ever made me feel welcome on this campus, but they always reminded me of where I was and what they think of me.

21.  david said on July 13, 2010

What about RLM, who was also a racist?

22.  Cliff L said on July 14, 2010

Hey Orangebloods,

No worries. With the all-white, all-conservative "Republiklan" UT Board of Regents set to vote on it, Simpkins' name, terrorist activities and murderous past are sure to retain their rightful place at America's most virulently racist university.

"Hook 'em, Horns."

23.  Betty B Wang said on July 14, 2010

Dave, removing Simkins' name from the dorm is justice. It reflects the Constitution which prohibits any wrong or activities inflicting pain on persons convicted of violations, typically by taking their lives, liberty or properties. What the KKK did in the past is not only conduct that is wrong, but should be held accountable for the wrongful behavior.

24.  Paul Garry said on July 14, 2010

It is high time that the South recognize the Confederacy for what it was, a corrupt society premised on the notion that people of one color had the god-given right to enslave people of another color. I would strongly urge the university to consider going further and eliminating the other Confederate representations on campus including Jefferson Davis' statute. UT should not be glorifying people whose vision of a "more perfect union" included the enslavement of an entire race of people.

25.  Southern Hoosier said on July 14, 2010

Just one more example of revisionist history and PC whitewash. Maybe The University of Texas at Austin could rename the dorm after another former Klansman, Sen. Byrd of West Virgina.

26.  Roger Warren said on July 14, 2010

I can remember a time when UT was ran by men. With testosterone. Those men would have laughed as they refused to consider silliness. Unfortunately, those men have left academia. They also left media, and they left because of silliness, such as disrespecting a man who was a child of his times. People who disregard and rewrite history are bound to repeat it.

27.  Disappointed said on July 15, 2010

History is really a messy affair. There are lots of things that happened in the past that we are not proud of, but that shouldn't be the basis for erasing and manipulating history. Simkins made tremendous contributions to this university to help make it the great place that it is. This politically correct culture that we live in these days is going too far. People have become too thin-skinned. We have statues dedicated to numerous confederate officers all over campus. I guess we need to tear those down now, too. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Let's take him out of the history books. In fact, let's go ahead and get rid of the Constitution due to the 3/5's compromise in Article I Section 2.3. Oh wait, we fixed that problem with the 14th Amendment. We shouldn't just hide from our past. Yes, we need to condemn the wrongs, but Simkins Hall was named because of his outstanding service to The University of Texas at Austin, not his KKK affiliation. What if, God forbid, one or more of our current great contributors to the university were exposed as part of something undesirable as part of the future culture of the university? Nobody is perfect; everyone has dirt. We definitely need to foster equality for everyone in this day and age. This is a slippery slope that we should have stayed away from. Over the years we have made it common practice to add to our campus rather than subtract to reflect the changing views and culture of the university and society. For example, just 11 years ago the Martin Luther King Jr. statue was unveiled as the first statue of an African American on the Forty Acres and even within the last few years we have erected statues of Barbara Jordan and Cesar Chavez to honor women and Latinos and their contributions. (These were the first statues of a woman and of a Latino on campus.) This progress is amazing and needed, but it still doesn't change and wipe out the past; it adds to it. I am just disappointed in this recent trend by policymakers of erasing history in the name of being politically correct, e.g. recent changes and discussions by the Texas Board of Education.

28.  phil g said on July 15, 2010

Just for information, Cliff L, there is no "Robert E. Lee Hall."

29.  Hasan said on July 15, 2010

Good job, UT Austin.

30.  Scott said on July 15, 2010

Washington was a slave owner. Any suggestions for a new name for the capital.

31.  Ben Hadd said on July 15, 2010

Why don't you rename the hall in question the "Robert C. Byrd Hall"? Then you will have the blessing of most of your opposition to Simkins Hall.

32.  Tom said on July 15, 2010

Well, as a former resident of Simkins, I must say that I am disappointed by this turn of events. I had no idea who Simkins was, nor his affiliation with the Klan - but going back and renaming a building that has carried this name for 60 years just seems like a foolish nod to political correctness. Many of the founding fathers were slave owners ... should we go back and erase any tributes to them as well? This is our history, folks ... and hopefully we learn from it. Finally, I had no idea that UT had a VP for diversity ... how PC. When the students call this year requesting an alumni contribution, my answer is gonna be pretty easy.

33.  Clairese said on July 19, 2010

Tea-sippers!

The Klan of Simkins time did a great deal of good, providing law and order in areas where there simply wasn't much.

On balance, the KKK of the Simkins era was a very helpful and effective civic organization, whose name has been sullied by the acts of a few.

The Klan is part of our heritage, just as is the work of Martin Luther King. I may despise that phony King, but I would never deny he existed, nor would I try to have his name removed from some building.

Such icons from the past, whether they be judged by current standards as PC or not, must not be allowed to be erased from history.

The Simkins example, if the name is left in plain view, can serve as an opportunity for an honest discussion of his era and changes that have occurred and those changes that remain to be accomplished.

My view of the Klan is that, in general, if you were a rural citizen, of any color, you could be sure that the Klan would keep order, even in rural areas where there was only occasional law enforcement. The good that the Klan did, if viewed objectively, far outweighed the few incidents of racial violence.

By the way, nearly every picture on the Web that is used to claim to be evidence of a Klan lynching are actually reproductions of old postcards that were published by towns, of legal hangings of convicts. The postcards were used to show that the town was tough on crime, and were quite common in rural areas.

34.  Ken Nwankwo said on July 29, 2010

Honestly I, being an African American who is here for education and success, could care less about this hall, the name or the afflictions the man had. I don't know him nor do I care to know his background. It is just a building. He didn't do anything to my family and me. Whatever malice he took part in will be rectified in the end. This name changing is just a waste of time. It is not the name that should determine the welcoming atmosphere but the people. About the Malcolm X Lounge...white people are welcome...it's just that you don't feel you are. You don't try to come in because you think it is exclusive even though it is not.... It is all a matter of perspective. The men who are immortalized through stone statues and or buildings are nothing more than that...stone and buildings. Instead of name changing, we should be worried about reducing tuition and getting even better professors. There are more pressing matters at UT than some building that is in the boondocks of campus. Leave it alone and contribute to the welcoming atmosphere of the UT community.