Faculty forum held on Douglas Hall name

Corryn Brock, News Editor

The Naming Committee continued its collection of feedback on potentially changing the name of Douglas Hall during a faculty forum Wednesday afternoon.

The faculty forum was the third of seven forums meant to collect the opinions of the various groups the Naming Committee defined as constituents.

Seven faculty members spoke on the matter, with the majority speaking in favor of a name change. Some, however, had concerns with the processes of the Naming Committee rather than the possibility of renaming of Douglas Hall. 

Grant Sterling, professor of philosophy, said he would like for the university to develop a set of criteria for renaming places on campus to have a uniform way of handling.

Sterling also said he did not agree with the messaging in the survey on the matter, specifically pertaining to Stephen Douglas himself. Part of the message described Douglas as someone who “built his political career upon a platform advocating for the extension of slavery into the western territories of the US while consistently relying upon inflammatory and racist rhetoric to excite the support of pro-slavery voters.”

Sterling said he disliked the statement and said the information was false.

“It seems to me that the description of Douglas is factually incorrect. I don’t really mind if we decide to rename Douglas Hall on the basis of an accurate description of Stephen Douglas’ career and his beliefs because there were certainly beliefs that were highly offensive and inconsistent with the mission of the university but that description is simple false,” Sterling said.

Sterling said Douglas was not attempting to expand slavery, but rather give Western territories the right to vote. He added that Douglas was considered to not be pro-slavery by members of his party.

Sterling said it appeared to him that information was designed to get those taking the survey to be biased towards renaming Douglas Hall.

Larry White, associate professor of business, discussed the previous times the university has addressed potentially renaming Douglas Hall.

This issue was originally addressed by the Eastern Naming Committee in 2010, once in 2017 and again in 2020.

White said he felt the questions in the survey were polarizing.

“I find the dichotomizing of the choices we’re presenting in the survey to be somewhat disturbing,” White said. “Dichotomizing tends to create polarization, perhaps by design, but we already live in an environment where we have too much polarization and most issues cannot be reduced to a simple dichotomy.”

He said it was similar to asking which race is superior.

Bonnie Laughlin-Shultz, associate professor of history, said he was in support of renaming the hall and that renaming would not diminish the historical element of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. One of the seven debates between Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, who were running for senator positions at the time, took place in Charleston and led to the naming of both Lincoln Hall and Douglas Hall.

Laughlin-Shultz said she attended college in one of the other towns debates took place in between Lincoln and Douglas, and part of the appeal of teaching at Eastern the history of the debate taking place in Charleston. 

She added that she believes the reason that the debate is so significant to some is that it was a part of the rise of Lincoln.

Laughlin-Shultz also said she feels the debates are already properly commemorated in Charleston without the naming of the two halls.

“I think that the debates are commemorated here. They’re commemorated at the fairgrounds, we have those statues of Lincoln and Douglas debating that appear in the other debate cities as well with a museum, with a plaque that really does a great job of contextualizing and dealing honestly with them,” Laughlin-Shultz said “So I don’t think that they also need to be commemorated on campus.”

Camden Burd, a professor of history, said “commemoration as an act is done in the present, not in the past.”

Burd said that it is possible that the values of the campus have changed since the building was named and that the commemoration could now reflect the modern values of the campus.

“I can assure you we will still teach the Lincoln-Douglas debates in history classes, we do it every semester so we won’t be losing anything there,” Burd said.

Jeffery Stowell, a professor of psychology, said he has been a member of the Faculty Senate each time the idea of renaming has been brought to the Naming Committee. He said he believes the name should be changed.

“It certainly is creating the perception that can potentially harm our students,” Stowell said. “We should put them first.”

Tim Engles, a professor of English, said that people should consider the current context and not just the historical context. Engles spoke specifically on the fact that other places that have been named after Douglas have been renamed in the recent past.

“We’re certainly not alone in this, having something named after Douglas that a lot of people want to change,” Engles said. “There’s a precedent in this happening.”

The next forum the committee will host will be Thursday at 7 p.m. The Zoom meeting ID is 943 8017 6654 and the passcode for the meeting is EIU1895.

 

Corryn Brock can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]