Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks said the Confederate monument that currently stands in the heart of the Ole Miss campus should be relocated “to a more suitable location” in a statement sent to students and faculty on Thursday.
“We will work diligently toward this goal by respecting and abiding by state rules, regulations and policies that govern the process of relocation, and by continuing to provide updates to the university community as the process moves forward,” the statement read. “This is an important decision for our university. The monument, its meaning and its location have been a point of discussion and debate for many years.”
Sparks will now have to get permission from the Mississippi Institutions for Higher Learning and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to relocate the statue.
The IHL Board of Trustees must approve of the recommendation to relocate the statue, and their next meeting is scheduled for April. However, the chancellor did not say in his statement when he will recommend the action to IHL.
Sparks said the university has submitted a “notice of intent” to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to gain approval to relocate the statue.
In a previous statement to The Daily Mississippian, Michael Morris, the public information officer for the department of archives and history, said the Circle at the university was designated as a state landmark in 2011, which, under the state’s Antiquities Law, means the university must obtain a permit from the department before altering a landmark.
“If the owner of a Mississippi landmark decides to undertake a construction or improvement project that affects the landmark, the Antiquities Law requires the owner to submit a notice of intent and include a detailed description of the proposed project with photographs, plans and/or specifications,” Morris said. “Permits are approved for projects meeting the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.”
This announcement comes after all four campus government groups — the Associated Student Body, the Senate of the Faculty, the Graduate Student Council and the Staff Council — passed resolutions calling for the relocation.
ASB President Elam Miller said he is proud of the chancellor for moving forward with the process of moving the statue out of the Circle.
“I am glad that the administration has respected the shared governance of the university,” Miller said. “I believe (Sparks’s) statement shows the leadership that this university has needed.”
Black Student Union President Jarvis Benson said he sees the administration’s continuation of efforts to remove the Confederate statue from the center of campus as a demonstration of the power of student voices.
“Students have worked for years to get the university to appropriately address its white supremacist past,” Benson said. “The chancellor’s statement today gives hope for more intentional efforts to do so.”
The authors of the campus government resolutions that led to Sparks’s decision are also responding to the chancellor’s chosen course of action with praise.
“We’re happy that the chancellor decided to do the right thing and submit the necessary request to get the statue down,” said Tom Porter, co-author of the Graduate Student Council resolution. “You would always like it to be faster. I understand bureaucracy takes time, and I don’t think IHL is the most progressive body. Still, things have moved pretty quickly on campus.”
Faculty senate chair Brice Noonan said he was impressed with the speed with which the university has addressed the statue this academic year.
“This was a refreshingly timely and clear response to the statements issued by the (university) representative bodies that demonstrates the administration’s commitment to working with and listening to the members of our campus community,” Noonan said.
Staff Council President Gazel Giles said she was pleased to hear that Sparks is in agreement with the campus government organizations and most upper-level administration that the statue needs to be moved.
“It’s important to follow proper procedure when it comes to these matters,” Giles said. “The statement today was a bit of relief for most staff members.”
Many alumni and community members took to social media with their reactions, which appeared to be mostly negative.
“Do we get a vote in that?” and, “All we ever do is give in,” were among the comments university alumna Hunter Stewart posted to Facebook in response to Sparks’s announcement. Some comments mentioned frustration with the administration’s decision to begin the process of relocation, and others shared their relief and excitement.
Assistant professor of history and African-American studies Shennette Garrett-Scott tweeted that the Confederate statue relocation is a “long time coming,” and an alum with the Twitter handle @PositivistMe wrote, “Not entirely confident this process will be successful, but the university deserves praise for publicly trying.”
While the four resolutions specify the Confederate cemetery near the Tad Smith Coliseum as the most appropriate location for the statue, Sparks’s statement did not clarify the location to which the statue will be moved.