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EIU advisory group urges consideration of Douglas name change

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The Douglas Hall building is shown behind an entrance sign for the residence hall and two connected halls on the campus of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.  

CHARLESTON -- The debate on the Douglas Hall name change is moving forward after a majority vote by the faculty advisory board at Eastern Illinois University on Tuesday.

Faculty Senate members approved a measure calling on EIU President David Glassman to reinstate a naming committee to look at changing the moniker of Douglas Hall, a male-only residence hall.

Renewed controversy over the name ignited when a former EIU faculty member addressed it to Faculty Senate members. Chris Hanlon, who now is at Arizona State University, made the suggestion to have the name changed about a month ago. Hanlon led another charge in 2010 as well to get the named changed.

The residence hall was named after Stephen Douglas, a former U.S. senator from the Democratic Party who famously debated Abraham Lincoln on issues like slavery in 1858.

While the measure is pointed toward the Douglas Hall name, this move by Faculty Senate might have implications for the Lincoln Hall name as well. Specifically, the resolution urges Glassman to "staff and task the University Naming Committee to consider a revision to the names of Douglas Hall and Lincoln Hall to more specifically commemorate the 1858 debates for which the buildings were originally named in 1951."

This kept Grant Sterling, the only faculty senate member to vote "no," from supporting the measure. Sterling said he could not support it as it is read because of what it might mean for Lincoln Hall.

“I am completely opposed to renaming Lincoln Hall,” Sterling said.

“If our objection is that people will mistakenly believe that Douglas Hall was named to honor and commemorate Stephen A. Douglas then presumably we also have to recognize that people might mistakenly think that Lincoln Hall is named to honor and commemorate Abraham Lincoln. So, we, the senate, would be saying that Abraham Lincoln is not worthy of having a hall named after him,” Sterling continued.

As part of the resolution, the faculty advisory group suggested renaming the two buildings the Lincoln-Douglas Debate East and West halls. This drew initial contention among some members during the meeting, with some arguing that it is not their place to make the recommendation at this time.

“I feel we should actually hold off on putting our two bits until that (naming) process is underway,” said Billy Hung, Faculty Senate member.

Jemmie Robertson, Faculty Senate chairman, said the inclusion of a suggestion would solidify what the Faculty Senate might want from the president and serve to combat knee-jerk reactions from the community worried that the move is an attempt to “erase history.”

Robertson said the East and West hall suggestion is merely that. Faculty Senate members discussed more interest in getting the naming committee started to gauge how the EIU community feels about the topic.

Before moving to a vote, Glassman chimed in, suggesting bronze historical markers be placed on Lincoln and Douglas halls. Whatever is done, Glassman said he wants the solution to be used as an “educational tool and a dialogue tool to get people talking.”

Glassman noted that he has already received several emails from people such as legislators questioning why he is “taking up this debate.” Glassman said at the crux of the issue, this is about ensuring that EIU is inclusive.

“I want to say I am taking up this debate because we are talking about inclusion and the importance of living together and respecting all backgrounds and all people,” Glassman said.

The resolution will be sent to Glassman for review and it will be up to him to decide what to do with Faculty Senate’s request.

Should interest in a name change make it through a naming committee if it is formed, the recommendation's last stop would be in front of the EIU Board of Trustees.


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Jarad Jarmon is a reporter for the JG-TC. He covers the city of Charleston, Eastern Illinois University, Mattoon schools and the Regional Office of Education.

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