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Letter From Chancellor: New Advisory Committee on History and Contextualization

Photo by Robert Jordan, Ole Miss Communications
Photo by Robert Jordan, Ole Miss Communications

Greetings,

Spring has arrived, and with it the campus has transformed from the winter season into a spectacular array of colors and signs of renewal. I particularly want to thank Jeff McManus and his team in Landscape Services for the incredible work they do to showcase our beautiful campus.

I’m writing today about another vibrant process we are going through: a continuing journey to recognize our university’s history, learn from it, and be a national model for moving forward. Earlier this month I wrote to inform you of the forthcoming installation of a plaque to contextualize the Confederate statue at Lyceum Circle. The creation of the plaque was in response to a key recommendation of the 2014 action plan.

Last summer, Dr. Morris Stocks, as interim chancellor, appointed Drs. Donald Cole, Andrew Mullins, Charles Ross, and David Sansing to draft the language for this plaque, as well as ways to contextualize Paul B. Johnson Commons, Lamar Hall, and Vardaman Hall. For the first project, this esteemed committee of experts worked diligently to balance perspective and history, and in late fall they completed a recommendation for the plaque wording. The plaque arrived and was installed in front of the Confederate statue on March 17.

Since then, the committee and I have received a great deal of input from the community. While the strong majority of comments has been supportive of both the contextualization concept and the specific language of the plaque, we received three important messages: (a) lack of awareness of the committee and its work, (b) insufficient opportunities for community input, and (c) suggestions to change the wording of the plaque.

During a meeting Thursday evening with the four committee members, two faculty members from the Critical Race Studies Group, and representatives from the UM NAACP student chapter, I announced that later this semester I will formally establish the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Contextualization. The goal is to provide a process going forward that is transparent, inclusive, and aligned with our Creed. I am pleased to report that Drs. Cole, Mullins, Ross, and Sansing have agreed to serve on this new committee, and we will add additional experts to the committee after seeking input from the university community.

The Advisory Committee will be charged with completing contextualization of the remaining three projects (Johnson Commons, Lamar Hall, and Vardaman Hall), determining if and how other contextualization projects should be undertaken, and assisting in telling more of the story of the university’s history.

The Advisory Committee will develop a range of mechanisms to ensure broad community input. We may also add ad hoc members to the committee on a temporary basis with specific expertise relevant to an individual project.

At the meeting Thursday, the four committee members also expressed their interest to consider all input received to date about the wording on the plaque at the Confederate statue, as well as to invite further suggestions from the UM community to help determine whether and how the plaque should be revised. I have complete respect for the process followed, and in that light, I respect the committee’s request to have more time to rethink their recommended wording. I agree that everyone who wants to provide input should be able to do so.

If you want to provide input, please do so by April 8, after which the committee will look at all responses and determine whether the wording on the plaque should change and, if so, what it should say. On the Campus Briefs section of the university Web page, the committee has posted information about how to provide input. You may also wish to listen to an interview with Dr. Don Cole and me conducted by Mississippi Public Radio.

I close by thanking all who have contributed to the process. We are fortunate to have a university community so dedicated to creating an inclusive and welcoming climate for all. I am committed as your chancellor to doing all I can to make our university a vibrant magnet to attract and retain the very best minds from Mississippi and around the world. Thank you for your continued support.

Sincerely,
Jeffrey S. Vitter,
Chancellor


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