In a what felt like a sudden move, President Fenves removed four statues of Confederate figures from UT’s Main Mall on campus in August 2017. However, the bases of these statues have remained in place for almost a year now on the Main Mall, one of the most popular spots on campus. Our administration should not only remove these ugly shrink-wrap-covered stone bases, but should use the ground they stand on to instead promote one of the University’s core values — learning.
According to Gary Susswein, the Chief Communications Officer for the Office of the President, UT was sued over the removal of the statues during the 2017–2018 school year, and the University required the statue bases to be left in place. The lawsuit was dismissed in court over a month ago, Susswein notes, and in his words the University is “reviewing options but has not yet reached final decisions about the space.” Given how quickly President Fenves made the decision to remove the statues back in August — about a week after the Charlottesville, Virginia riots — it remains clear that a swift decision to remove or alter the bases of the statues is not only possible but appropriate.
These bases unavoidably serve as reminders of the Confederate figures that used to stand on them, and even if new statues are to replace the old ones, they likely must either be redone or removed. It must be made clear that these bases are as unwelcome on this campus as the figures that used to stand on them.
“The University of Texas at Austin is a public educational and research institution, first and foremost,” President Fenves said in the campus-wide email he sent out following the removal of the statues. “Erected during the period of Jim Crow laws and segregation, the statues represent the subjugation of African Americans.”
Although it’s only been a month since the lawsuit was dismissed, the decision to alter or remove the bases is a no-brainer. The Main Mall — one of the most photogenic spots on campus — is a critically important UT landmark. The administration should have already implemented a faster and more prudent timeline for action.
Dr. Lauren Gutterman, assistant professor of American studies, history, and women’s and gender studies, recognizes the space that the bases stand on now as an area of great potential for the University.
“I would love to see students take the lead in a conversation about what should take the place of the Confederate monuments,” Gutterman said in an email. “Perhaps they could serve as a platform for students’ changing, semi-permanent artwork. Or perhaps student government could put forward a series a proposals about who or what might best symbolize our university’s values today and then seek proposals from sculptors or artists inspired by their vision.”
UT’s core value of learning is defined as “a caring community, all of us students, helping one another grow.” This is the perfect message to explore when considering options for what to do with the space that is currently occupied by the statue bases. A message of inclusiveness and support is the opposite of the statues’ message of hatred and bigotry, and is a message UT should always seek to embrace and promote. These statue bases are ugly in all sense of the word, and they need to go. Now.
Caldwell is a Latin American studies and journalism sophomore from College Station.