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Should UT Change Dorm Named After Law Prof in KKK? Panel Will Study Issue

Posted Jun 10, 2010 5:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A University of Texas dormitory is named after a dead law professor who was a Ku Klux Klan leader. But the university doesn’t want to be too hasty in considering a name change.

Instead the school has named a 19-member panel to make recommendations, according to stories in the Austin American-Statesman and the Associated Press. The dorm, Simkins Residence Hall, was named in 1954 after William Stewart Simkins, a law professor who died in 1929 after teaching at UT’s Austin law school for 30 years. Simkins was a Klan leader in Florida after the Civil War.

The committee includes students, alumni, civic leaders and faculty, including law professor Sanford Levinson, the Austin American-Statesman says.

The controversy arose after a former UT law professor, Thomas Russell, posted a paper on the Social Science Research Network contending that the university named the dorm after Simkins as it faced pressure to admit African-American students.

In the paper, Russell recalled that when he taught at the law school in the 1990s, the reference desk at the law library displayed a bust of Simkins. Students used to pat Simkins’ head and rub his nose for good luck, though they had no idea who he was. “The bust remained on the reference desk until a newly hired librarian of color with a sense of history insisted on its removal,” Russell wrote.

A website for UT’s Office of VP for Diversity and Community Engagement has more information. The panel's recommendations are due at the end of the month.

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