College Hosts Virtual Meetings, Chancellor Forms Committee to Evaluate J. William Fulbright’s Presence at the U of A
What should the presence of former U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright be on the University of Arkansas campus, and how do we as a university address this?
That is the question a new committee formed by Chancellor Joe Steinmetz will be asked to answer in response to calls to reexamine how the university recognizes and honors Fulbright – including whether or not the statue that bears his likeness and the college that bears his name should continue to do so.
“His political and historical legacy is controversial and complex, but this is an important conversation for us to have,” said Todd Shields, dean of the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. “And there is no better place than on a college campus, where we value debate, learning and growth.”
J. William Fulbright was a University of Arkansas student who graduated in 1925, was later a law professor and then became U of A president from 1939-41 – all prior to serving as a U.S. Senator for 30 years, supporting the creation of the United Nations, and founding the international exchange program that bears his name.
“However, Fulbright’s record on civil rights directly contradicts his efforts to advance cultural understanding,” Shields said.
Fulbright signed the Southern Manifesto, opposed the landmark 1954 ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and voted against the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Shields, who is also a professor of political science, joined Calvin White, Jr., associate dean and associate professor of history, and Randall Woods, former dean, distinguished professor of history, and Fulbright biographer, to discuss this and more during a recent Deans’ Town Hall on J. William Fulbright’s Legacy.
The panel discussion and accompanying Q&A was part of a special session of the weekly Fulbright College DEI Hour, which launched this spring and consists of open weekly digital conversations hosted by Romona West, the college’s director of diversity and inclusion.
Additionally, Shields participated in a recent Alumni Lunch and Learn on J. William Fulbright’s Complex Political Legacy, moderated by alumnus Brian Wolff, executive vice president of public policy and external affairs for Edison Electric Institute in Washington, D.C.
After both the discussions, Shields said that next step would be to form the committee at the Chancellor’s request, which will consist of about 15-20 students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members. Shields and Calvin White, Jr. will also both serve in non-voting facilitator roles for the committee.
“The committee’s main goal will be to form a complete understanding of Fulbright’s role and presence on our campus by gathering multiple and differing constituency views, and ultimately providing a recommendation to the Chancellor for how and if Fulbright’s presence should be recognized on campus,” Shields said. “We’ll ask committee members to approach this project with an objective and open mind, to be willing to consider multiple perspectives, and to set a swift timeline.”
Shields said the committee will meet with different student, faculty, staff, alumni and community groups, as well as consult with guests such as noted Fulbright biographers, distinguished historians and scholars who study race and other related topics, leaders from other campuses facing similar issues, and other special invited guests that the committee would like to speak with.
Additionally, the committee will also invite any interested parties in the general public to provide their feedback.
More information and instructions on how to do this will soon be posted to the college’s website at fulbright.uark.edu/diversity along with recordings of the recent Town Hall and Lunch and Learn to provide additional context.
More information about J. William Fulbright can also be found in the University of Arkansas Libraries’ Special Collection of J. William Fulbright Papers online.
Shields said after reviewing all feedback, the committee will make its recommendation to the Chancellor for next steps concerning the statue and college name, and that the Chancellor will then consult with the system’s Board of Trustees for a decision about any changes to Fulbright’s role on campus.
“It is our great hope that the committee will help us determine the best way forward, and that together as a college, as a university, we will continue to strive to create an even better future for the U of A and for us all,” Shields said.