If Oklahoma State University prides itself on becoming one of the most diverse universities in the United States, surely it wouldn’t have a building named after one of the state’s most well known racists, right?
That is a topic buzzing around campus. Should OSU take the name of William H. Murray, a former governor who wrote large portions of the Oklahoma Constitution and a bigot off the building?
A forum was held last month during which Randi Eldevik, an associate English professor, and Bill Bryans, an associate professor of history, debated the topic.
“He was really head and shoulders above the other racists and bigots. He was not just your average racist,” Eldevik said. “He was just the worst of the worst.”
Bryans said he does not debate that Murray was a racist, but rather than jumping to conclusions and focusing on his negative aspects, suggests instead that some research should be done.
“I’m defending history as much as I’m defending Murray,” Bryans said. “He wasn’t the only racist person in Oklahoma at that time.”
Bryans added that no one, at this point, can understand the complexity of Murray. Also, Murray continuously makes the list of most influential Oklahomans, he said.
Preserving history is Bryans’ main argument, or at least learning about the issue before taking action.
“I think this is a great educational opportunity,” Bryans said. “I am not necessarily against removing the name from the building. This is a great opportunity to deal with our past.”
On the other hand, some professors are looking more toward the future than dwelling on the past.
“The past is the past, and we can’t change that,” said Jason Kirksey, an associate political science professor. “The future can be changed.”
Kirksey said it is up to the university to decide how it wants to be viewed.
“The issue shouldn’t really be about Murray,” Kirksey said. “The issue should be about the university and how the university wants to be perceived from this point forward. Nobody is suggesting that we go back and rewrite history. Certainly his contributions to the state and the constitution should be noted and applauded. (But) the name should absolutely be changed.”
Eldevik said that the Arts and Sciences Faculty Council sent a recommendation to interim OSU President Marlene Strathe about removing the name of Murray Hall before what was originally called a “rededication” of the building.
However, OSU spokesman Gary Shutt said the event was not a rededication.
“Any change to the name of a building must follow the procedures outlined in the ‘Naming University Facilities at Oklahoma State University’ policy. A request must be presented to the Facilities Planning and Space Utilization Committee,” Shutt said in an e-mail.
“If the facilities committee recommends a name change, it is sent to the president of the university for consideration and then to the OSU Board of Regents for final action.
“Any decision regarding the name of the building will be made following a full discussion of the issues and at the appropriate time.”
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