Board of Curators votes down Thomas Jefferson Contextualization Task Force recommendation

At an all-day public session Thursday, the UM System Board of Curators voted not to implement the suggestions made by the Task Force for the Contextualization of Thomas Jefferson after students and faculty called for the statue’s removal.

The UM System Board of Curators held a public session Thursday at the Memorial Student Union to discuss issues like rising tuition and adding new degree programs to each school in the UM System. The board voted on resolutions proposed by the task force intended to contextualize Thomas Jefferson and address student and faculty concerns. They voted not to introduce any new measures to contextualize the statue.

The statue is located on Francis Quadrangle, one of the most high-traffic spots on campus, and has caused unrest over the last year. Students and faculty called for the removal of the statue because Jefferson owned slaves. Throughout history, Jefferson supported Native American removal, and impregnated Sally Hemings, one of his slaves. Despite his actions and repeated protests over this issue, MU announced that removing the statue would not be an option for the task force.

The task force was originally assigned “to determine substantial ways we can fully contextualize Jefferson — his seminal accomplishments and his history as a slave owner,” UM System President Mun Choi wrote in an introductory email sent to the task force on Aug. 3.

The task force recommended that a clear sign be placed next to the statue that highlights Jefferson as a “complex historical figure.” They proposed the plaque to read in part:

“Jefferson later fathered six children with Sally Hemings, one of more than 600 people he enslaved throughout his life, and instigated policies that led to the forcible removal of Indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands.”

The task force also proposed that the sign include a QR code that could provide more insight and information on Jefferson. The Board of Curators decides if any changes will be made to the statue.

The task force pitched two different resolutions to the board. The first resolution was the plaque. The second resolution included the QR code with extra context and links to facts about Jefferson. The Board of Curators motioned to reject the first resolution, and amend it so no changes would be made to the statue.

“I cannot support putting a wayward sign up,” Curator Greg Hoberock said. “I don’t think it will do any good and I think it will cause more harm than good in the long run at this university.”

With the first resolution amended, the board then discussed the implementation of a QR code. Curator Julia Brncic said that, while putting up a 300-word sign would not be possible, the QR code could be beneficial.

Curator Jeffrey Layman disagreed, and argued that a QR code would be too limiting. Layman said there are “a lot of facts” to pick and choose which facts get to be included in the code.

“I just don’t think that’s our role as curators,” Layman said.

The vote for the QR code resolution tied 4-4. The board passed the first resolution, which recommended no change occur to the statue, 7-1.

The Thomas Jefferson statue will remain, as is, on campus.

Choi emphasized MU’s ongoing efforts to contextualize and educate students about complex figures in history through research. He encouraged students to educate themselves about people with complex histories.

“We will continue, and we ask our faculty, researchers and students to continue to learn more about complex individuals, and that’s really the hallmark of our university,” Choi said.

Edited by Sydney Lewis and Sophie Chappell | slewis@themaneater.com and schappell@themaneater.com

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