November 27, 2017
To the Oregon State University community,
I am writing to share my decisions following the review of five building names on OSU’s Corvallis campus. These buildings are Arnold Dining Center, Avery Lodge, Benton Hall, Benton Annex and Gill Coliseum.
The names of all buildings and places play a very important role in our university. They speak to the 149-year history of OSU, the university’s values and mission, and our efforts to create an inclusive community for all. Names also recognize and honor the positive contributions of those associated with Oregon State University.
Over the past two years, hundreds of students and OSU employees, community stakeholders and alumni have participated in numerous meetings about these buildings. Hundreds more contributed their thoughts by e-mail, in phone calls, letters, and on a website comment form created for this building name review. The university conducted scholarly research on each of these buildings and, where possible, interviewed more than a dozen individuals who personally knew these buildings’ namesakes. The scholars’ research resulted in four reports totaling more than 50 pages and a 27-page qualitative analysis of the input received on the website comment form and at six community meetings.
A description of this process, our renaming criteria, and the naming policy of the university, along with the research on these buildings and their namesakes, are available on the OSU Building and Place Name website.
I appreciate and I am pleased to note that the process of reconciling the histories of these buildings has embodied the spirit and purpose of this university. OSU is a community where learning, discovery, listening, discussion – and even debate – is respected and encouraged. After all, this is why students, faculty and staff are here: to learn, discuss and use facts and discovery to advance lives, careers, community, society and the world.
While not everyone will agree with the outcomes, I believe this process is proof that at Oregon State University, we productively and positively take on tough issues and collaborate.
This process of evaluating the history of five buildings and their namesakes was not entirely about building names. Nor was it an isolated undertaking. This review occurs at a very important time in our university’s history – the celebration of OSU150: Oregon State’s 150th anniversary as Oregon’s statewide university. OSU150 began in August and runs through October 2018. It represents a rare opportunity to take stock of OSU’s past and present, to celebrate what is good and to reconcile with our past in order to improve. It is also an opportunity to determine how OSU will serve Oregon, the nation and the world as a 21st century land grant university.
In all of this, I am mindful that we must acknowledge our past, avoid hypocrisy and recognize the history of those who established this extraordinary university. In some cases, we will need to reconcile aspects of our past which were not acceptable or that treated some people unfairly or discriminated against them due to their differences, such as race. Like the review of these building names, OSU150 will inform and illuminate that history, not eliminate it, nor celebrate all aspects of it.
By exploring our past, we will recognize that everything and everyone who preceded us, helped get us to who and where we are today. This knowledge will guide us to improve. And in doing so, reconcile past injustices and provide for greater future inclusivity and success for all – regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or identity, religion, nation of origin, disability or economic circumstances.
This winter, we will begin developing public educational materials that will be placed in each of the five buildings under consideration. As well, OSU will undertake research on the history of all university buildings. Over time, these histories will be documented, and prominently displayed within each respective building, on the university website and within a mobile app. Furthermore, upon the conclusion of OSU150, elements of a major OSU history exhibit to be held in 2018 at the Oregon Historical Society Museum in Portland will be relocated and permanently displayed at our campuses in Corvallis and Bend, and in major Oregon State centers in Newport, Portland and elsewhere. Such a transparent recognition of Oregon State University’s history is essential to our growth as a community committed to success for all people.
The review of these five building names was completed last week as I received recommendations regarding each of these buildings from OSU’s Architectural Naming Committee. Earlier this month, I met with members of the Building and Place Name Evaluation Work Group regarding their assessment of these buildings’ names and received advice on whether any names should be changed.
I thank these committees, the Building and Place Name Leadership Committee, the scholars who did impressive research, and all who participated in this evaluation process and shared their views. While this process took two years, concern over some of these buildings names has been longstanding. In conducting this review so thoroughly, OSU stakeholders and leaders from among our students, faculty and staff have created a process, naming policy and renaming criteria that will well serve OSU long into the future. I am happy to see that renaming procedures going forward require presentation of substantive evidence for initial review before a public process is undertaken. While we must be open to examining our history, going forward, it is essential that detailed evidence is first gathered and shared with the Architectural Naming Committee.
Based upon the facts gathered, as well as the recommendations and input that I have received, I have decided to retain the names of Gill Coliseum and Arnold Dining Center, and to instruct the Architectural Naming Committee to gather input from the OSU community and stakeholders in winter 2018 and recommend to me:
The preponderance of evidence gathered by the scholar’s report and this naming review process – and shared by other historians in the past – indicates that Joseph C. Avery’s views and political engagement in the 1850’s to advance slavery in Oregon are inconsistent with Oregon State’s values. At the time, he was linked to the Occidental Messenger, a pro-slavery, Corvallis-based publication. I recognize that Joseph C. Avery made important contributions in the early days to help establish Corvallis College, which became what is now OSU. I also am mindful that over the past decades, other members of the Avery family have contributed to OSU and I thank them for their support of the university. However, it is my decision that going forward, OSU will no longer recognize Joseph C. Avery’s legacy with the name of a university building.
It is clear from the scholar’s report and naming review process that Benjamin Lee Arnold, president of Corvallis College and Oregon Agricultural College from 1872-1892, was born into a Virginia family that owned slaves and benefitted from slavery. Benjamin Lee Arnold did not own slaves himself. It is also true that as a college student, he spent time studying slavery as an economic system. He also served within the Confederate Army – although it appears that he was frequently ill during the Civil War and details of his service are unclear. As president of Corvallis College, he led the institution to stability during a very difficult, formative time. He served as an administrator, taught classes, and contributed to fundraising so that the college could maintain its land grant status under the Morrill Act. It is not clear whether Arnold privately or publicly held or espoused discriminatory views, however, his contributions to the institution are evident and notable. As president, the college grew and women students and faculty were welcomed, nearly a century before Ivy League schools enrolled women. The college admitted and graduated its first Native American students during this time, as well. When the college changed from a church-related school to a public college in the mid-1880s, the new oversight board retained President Arnold in his position. It is my judgment that the preponderance of evidence supports retaining the name of Arnold Dining Center.
The university sought to honor the residents of Benton County in 1947 by naming OSU’s first building, Benton Hall. History shows that members of the community remarkably raised a significant amount of funds for the construction of the building in January 1887. This same community has since supported the university and its mission. In contrast, according to the scholar’s report and naming review process, the name of this building does not seek to honor former Missouri U.S. Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, who in the 1820’s through the 1850’s, was a national architect of westward expansion and promoter of Manifest Destiny, and for whom Benton County is named. During that era, Benton supported federal legislation to remove Native Americans from their tribal lands and, while he was opposed to extending slavery into western states, he was not in favor of abolishing slavery elsewhere. The current name of the building does not make this distinction clear. It is my judgment that the name of Benton Hall should be changed to a name that honors the contributions of community and county residents who believed in and invested in higher education early on. Thanks to their initial leadership and contributions, Oregon State University has endured and pursued its mission.
I find that the 1972 naming of this building and its connection to Benton Hall lacks an explanation. While the building has been an important part of the university since 1882, its current role serving as the OSU Women’s Center was not determined until 1973. Going forward, this building should have a new name that recognizes the important role that this center contributes to Oregon State.
It is my decision that this athletics center will continue to be named in honor of Amory T. “Slats” Gill, who served from 1928-64 as Oregon State’s basketball coach and eventually as athletic director. I find that the scholars’ report and naming review process offers no evidence that Gill deliberately sought to keep the Oregon State men’s basketball team from becoming integrated. I also find no evidence that he held or expressed discriminatory views about African-Americans. It appears Gill was a product of his time regarding the style of play of his teams, which he perfected. He coached at Oregon State during an era in which few African-Americans attended this institution, and those who did faced frequent discrimination. This was a troubled era in the university’s history, but I do not find that Gill supported such a lack of inclusivity. In fact, the historical review indicates he tried unsuccessfully to recruit several African-American student-athletes. While a tough taskmaster for all of his players, Gill also was active in the Corvallis community, serving on the school board and helping lead community and university organizations.
In making these decisions, I call upon the Architectural Naming Committee beginning in winter 2018 to:
Through these efforts, OSU150 and other university initiatives – such as Vision 2030 and OSU’s update of its strategic plan – we will inform all about the Oregon State University’s history, values and mission. We will recognize the positive contributions of those associated with Oregon State. We will celebrate what is good and reconcile what must be improved, and in doing so, help engage the broader OSU community and its stakeholders in the university’s efforts to create inclusivity for all.