Majority of task force recommendations support relocating Confederate statues

Matthew Adams

The Task Force on Historical Representation of Statuary released their recommendations to UT President Gregory Fenves earlier Monday, primarily advocating for the relocation of the Jefferson Davis statue and other Confederate symbols in the Main Mall.

The task force presented five options to Fenves Monday morning, including four proposals to relocate the statues and one proposal to add explanatory plaques to the statues. Fenves formed the task force in late June to present multiple options regarding the statues on campus, a day after the Davis statue was vandalized for the third time this year.

University spokesman Gary Susswein said Fenves intends to make a decision as soon as possible, but he does not have a date set to make his announcement.

“[The task force] had the opportunity through public forums as well as the online feedback that we captured the broad array of options to address the statuary on the Main Mall,” said Gregory Vincent, chair of the task force and vice president of diversity and community engagement. “We wanted to be sure since so many people responded that we accurately captured the feedback and be sure that the feedback was fully presented in the report.”

The report said the Briscoe Center for American History is an ideal location to relocate the statues because it is a “repository” for UT history, although the report said that a lack of space and funding could make relocation problematic.

“[The Briscoe Center] is primarily an archival center at the current time,” the report said.  “Further concerns have been raised about the fact that it does not currently have adequate funding for exhibit space and that even when funds are raised, it is only offering to put the statues on rotating display in a single niche.”

The first option in the report is the only alternative that includes leaving the statues in place and adding explanatory plaques to provide education value and historical context. However, members of the task force elaborated on the negatives of the plan.

“However, it would draw more attention to the statues while not ending—and likely prolonging—the controversy,” the report said.  “A significant portion of the campus community views the statues’ present and placement as deeply offensive and unrepresentative of the university’s mission and values.”

Option 2 proposes relocating the Jefferson Davis statue and the inscription west of Littlefield Fountain to the Briscoe Center, the Blanton Museum, the Texas Memorial Museum, the Harry Ransom Center, the Littlefield Home or an exhibit elsewhere on campus.

Options 3 through 5 consist of relocating most or all of six statues on campus — Davis, Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, John Reagan, James Hogg and Woodrow Wilson. Option 3 would move Davis, Lee, Johnston, Reagan and the Littlefield Fountain inscription, while Option 4 would relocate Davis, Lee, Johnston, Wilson and the inscription. Option 5 would relocate all six statues and the inscription.

One of the considerations of how to relocate the statues was the original intention of the artwork, according to the report.

“Some think that keeping the six together, even in their relocation, would show greater respect for what is a single work of art than would splitting them up yet again,” the report said.

Of the options presented, Vincent said the Briscoe Center option had support from members of the task force, but they wanted to present multiple options.

“I want to give Dr. [Don] Carlton, [executive director of the Briscoe Center] a great deal of credit for presenting the option,” Vincent said. “But we want to be clear that is one of several options if President Fenves decides to relocate.”  

The original proposal date was Aug. 1, but the task force requested an extension from Fenves to continue making itsrecommendations. Student Government President Xavier Rotnofsky, a member of the task force, said the extension was important, not only to consider other information and input, but to finalize the draft before presenting it to Fenves.  Now that the task force submitted the report, Rotnofsky said he does not expect any surprises.

“The task force was asked by Fenves to help and look at the different options for the statues,” Rotnofsky said. “I expect Fenves will consider the options and will follow through with what he said he would do.”

Click here to read the full report.

This article has been updated since its original publication.