The editorial board of this newspaper stated back in August that a task force formed by Western Kentucky University President Timothy Caboni is attempting to whitewash history with the possible renaming of colleges and buildings on campus because they are named after slaveholders.
We are still of that opinion.
We stated then and are stating again for the record that slavery was a dark chapter in our nation’s history, but we also believe what we witnessed last summer with mobs illegally toppling Confederate statues and universities renaming buildings because they were named after slaveholders is also wrong.
We didn’t think the whitewashing of history would hit our taxpayer-funded university in Bowling Green, but it appears that it may well have.
We watched as Caboni formed this task force, called the Naming and Symbols Task Force, to gather information and submit recommendations about the renaming of WKU’s Potter College of Arts and Letters and its Ogden College of Science and Engineering.
It’s been well known for decades by citizens in this community and former and present faculty, staff and presidents of WKU that Potter and Ogden were slaveholders, but for all those decades WKU has proudly given countless Ogden Scholarships to students.
Obviously, it didn’t seem to bother WKU when taking the Potter and Ogden families’ money nearly a century ago, which ended up with their names being placed on colleges and buildings.
Were the people at WKU who took this money, utilized property and awarded scholarships through the decades from these two prominent families racist?
We think not.
We think those who accepted the money, named things after them and handed out countless scholarships in their names understood that Potter and Ogden were products of their time. It was not uncommon in the South to own slaves during the time period Potter and Ogden were alive.
People in academia like those at WKU should want young minds to know our nation’s history, the good and the bad. Professors teaching American history at WKU have a duty and responsibility to teach students in their history classes that slavery was totally wrong. But they also need to teach students in a historical, factual context that in the times these men and their families owned slaves, slavery was enshrined in the Constitution.
Does the fact that this was enshrined in the Constitution make slavery right?
Of course it doesn’t, but in Potter and Ogden’s time it was the law of the land.
This task force needs to understand that it’s simply not fair to judge people’s ancestors well over a century ago by the standards of today.
We’ve said before that this task force has a lot to think of here. Its members need to take into account the descendants of these two families and how they will react if their loved ones’ names are removed. Those responsible for reexamining names on colleges and buildings need to also think about how many scholarships past and current that have been given out under the Potter and Ogden College names.
They also need to think about their alumni who they rely on for support. Many have phoned this newspaper, stopped us on the sidewalk or talked to us in the grocery to discuss their dismay at what Caboni and this task force have discussed doing. Some have said if the names are removed, they will no longer give money to their alma mater.
The task force members also need to seriously think about the future implications of their actions if they do vote to move forward with this idea in regard to future donors. If they do remove these names, could there potentially be a litmus test of future donors involving an ancestral check to see if their families owned slaves?
Would it be fair to turn down a big donor’s money if such a search found that the donor’s ancestors owned slaves 150 to 200 years ago?
We don’t think so.
With the current budget issues in our state and enrollment in some universities declining, we don’t believe WKU is in a position to lose big donor or alumni support.
Finally, we learned Monday that WKU is now soliciting the public’s feedback on the possible removal of the Potter and Ogden names.
“We have begun the process of researching those names and symbols used on our campuses, the context which led to their adoption, and how they fit within the university’s educational mission,” WKU political science professor and task force co-chair Saundra Ardrey said in a news release. “Now we are seeking the thoughts from our various communities as we seek to provide thoughtful and comprehensive recommendations that can provide WKU with guidance now and in the future.”
Citizens of this community shouldn’t believe Ardrey and other task force members care about your input on this matter because they don’t. We strongly suspect the task force will vote to remove the Potter and Ogden names and would go so far to say that decision has already been made.
This feedback they want from you is pure window dressing. It’s being put out to the public, with a one-month deadline, as a means of cover for those on this task force when they make their announcement to remove the names.
Again, don’t be fooled by those on this task force. They want to remove these names due to their politically correct views, and that decision is almost a certainty.
The people in our community are very intelligent. Sure, they might not all have master’s degrees and Ph.D.s hanging on their walls, but they can clearly spot farce when they see it. We believe they see the farce that is being played out right in front of their eyes with this task force appearing to actually care what they think.
Shame on this task force if this plays out as we believe it likely will.