Ole Miss faculty group weighs in on controversial monument issue

Published 9:40 pm Thursday, March 7, 2019

A faculty group at the University of Mississippi on Thursday added its voice to those asking that a Confederate monument be shifted from its current spot on campus, as the university’s leader said campus groups’ opinions could influence a final decision.

Faculty Senate Chair Brice Noonan said that body voted unanimously for a resolution recommending the statue’s relocation to a Confederate cemetery on campus. The resolution, similar to those passed earlier this week by two student government groups, says the current placement “undermines our mission to maintain an inclusive and safe environment.”

The move came hours after Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks said in a statement that he’s waiting on campus groups’ recommendations on the issue before deciding if he will ask the College Board to vote on moving the statue to a Confederate cemetery on campus.

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“This is an important decision and issue for our university,” Sparks said. “We understand that other campus constituents are considering resolutions.”
The fourth main campus group, the Staff Council of employees, is voting by email and expects a final tally by Friday morning. Staff Council President Gazel Giles tells student newspaper The Daily Mississippian that his group is “passionate” in its preference that the monument be relocated and she expects the resolution to pass.

Sparks said College Board trustees, who govern Mississippi’s eight public universities, ultimately must vote to move the statue. Sparks said that before any move, the university must consult with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which regulates government construction that might affect historic structures. Sparks said the university also must include a justification that the cemetery is a suitable location for the statue.

A 2004 Mississippi law says war monuments, including those commemorating the Confederacy, can’t be altered but can be moved to a “more suitable location.”
Members of the Associated Student Body Senate voted 47-0 Tuesday night for a resolution asking administrators to move the statue, which has stood since 1906 in a parklike setting near the white-columned Lyceum, the university’s main administrative building. The Graduate Student Council Senate adopted a similar resolution Monday.

The university, founded in 1848, has worked in fits and starts the past two decades to distance itself from Confederate imagery. Since 2016, Ole Miss has installed plaques to provide historical context about the Confederate monument and about slaves who built some pre-Civil War campus buildings.

Pro-Confederate groups from outside the university rallied at the statue Feb. 23, and Ole Miss basketball players knelt during the national anthem at a game that day to protest those activities.

The cemetery is in a secluded part of campus and has graves of Confederate soldiers killed at the Battle of Shiloh.

Because of a student-led effort, the university in 2015 stopped flying the Mississippi flag, the last state flag to prominently feature the Confederate battle emblem.

The nickname for athletic teams remains the Rebels, but Ole Miss retired its Colonel Reb mascot in 2003. In 1997, administrators banned sticks in the football stadium, which largely stopped people from waving Confederate battle flags. The marching band no longer plays “Dixie.”