CHARLESTON — Weighing commemoration versus recognizing history, an Eastern Illinois University committee voted Wednesday to recommend that the name of the university's Douglas Hall be changed.
All members of the EIU Naming Committee who attended the meeting voted in favor of that as the recommendation to send to university President David Glassman.
Glassman instructed the committee to consider the name in light of recent concerns about racial injustice and because of the connection between Stephen Douglas, for whom the building was named, and his position on slavery.
Glassman will use the committee's recommendation to decide what, if any, action to request from the university's Board of Trustees, which next meets on June 25. Any actual change of the name would be a board decision.
Committee members Wednesday noted widespread support of changing the name expressed during public forums on the issue and in a survey the committee distributed.
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"The way we commemorate history says something about who we are," committee member Claudia Danyi said.
A building name honors "what that person stood for even if that was not its original intent," she said.
While the issue has been discussed in the past, the current review was the first to lead to a recommendation for a change to the residence hall's name.
The building and its neighboring Lincoln Hall were named in the 1950s in recognition of the Lincoln-Douglas debates between Douglas and Abraham Lincoln during the 1858 U.S. Senate campaign.
One of the debates took place at the Coles County Fairgrounds in Charleston. Lincoln and Douglas took opposing positions on the expansion of slavery into new states.
On Wednesday, committee member Don Holly said it was "absolutely clear" that the names of both residence halls were meant to recognize the debates. But had there been only one building, it likely would have been named for Lincoln and "certainly not" for Douglas, he said.
"History is not commemoration," Holly said. "History is critical and scholarship."
He noted the argument of Douglas being a "populist" but said it was clear he did not feel Blacks were equal, which isn't something the university should commemorate.
Member Mona Davenport said the committee should give "a lot of value" to the input it received from EIU students, who were "adamant" about changing the name.
"They are the ones we have to set an example for," she said. "Across the nation, we are removing anything that commemorates anything that is wrong, especially in connection with racism."
It wasn't known Wednesday whether Glassman's decision on what to recommend to the Board of Trustees will be announced before the board's meeting.
In its recommendation, the committee included a suggestion that more specific criteria for use in naming university buildings be established. The recommendation also called for more public information about the reasons behind buildings' names.
The committee's other members who joined in supporting the change were Chairwoman Angie Campbell, Diane Burns and Carlos Amaya. Noor Khamisani, the committee's student representative, did not attend any of the committee's meetings, including Wednesdays.
The outcome of the committee's vote was announced as unanimous after members cast their votes anonymously. The committee declined to conduct a roll call vote, despite objections from members of the press who attended the meeting and expressed concerns about possible Open Meetings Act violations.
However, the committee later issued a statement acknowledging the vote was "improper, as it was not available to the public." It included a posting of the electronic vote total and a link to a video of the board's meeting: www.eiu.edu/naming/recordings.php.