MU board chooses to keep Jenkins Hall name
HUNTINGTON - Following a lengthy executive session reviewing recommendations from the ad hoc committee and the president, the Marshall University Board of Governors on Thursday narrowly voted to keep the name Jenkins Hall but place a plaque or display inside the building condemning bigotry and recognizing the lasting effect of slavery on society.
Along with the Jenkins decision, the board voted to name the new School of Pharmacy building being built along Hal Greer Boulevard after late university president Stephen J. Kopp and approved two honorary degrees that will be announced once the honorees are notified.
Kopp died in 2014 unexpectedly during winter break. Under his leadership, the School of Pharmacy was created at Marshall. The building will be dedicated this summer.
The board was in executive session for about two hours Thursday while they discussed the naming decisions.
During the regular meeting, Marshall President Jerome Gilbert presented the board with a report from the Presidential Committee to Examine Building Names, which he formed after a group of students approached him with the idea of changing the name of Jenkins Hall.
Jenkins Hall, housing the College of Education and Professional Development, is named for Albert Gallatin Jenkins, an area Confederate general, slave holder and Marshall Academy graduate.
After public hearings and request for public comment, the committee offered four recommendations, including keeping the name; changing it to Marshall Lab School, which was a program in the building through the ’70s and a common name for the building until the program ended; or some combination of the two.
In the committee report, committee chairwoman and board member Christie Kinsey writes the greatest impact on the committee’s decision to narrow but not finalize a recommendation was indication by “major donors” to the university that support would cease if the building’s name were changed.
Gilbert offered his own recommendation, suggesting the board change the name to honor a former president he did not name who had connections to the actual function of the building and include Jenkins’ name somewhere inside the building with historical context explaining Jenkins’ impact on history.
Gilbert said he reached this opinion by using the board’s policy on naming units and facilities, which ensures the university honors individuals “of extraordinary achievement” of “lasting value” or who have made “a significant and far-reaching impact” on Marshall. Gilbert said arguments could be made that Jenkins does not meet those standards, though others could say he does.
In the end, the board voted 9-7 to keep Jenkins Hall as it is, but to place a plaque or display inside the school denouncing bigotry, prejudice and discrimination, and recognizing slavery’s lasting impact on society.
In a statement on behalf of the board, chairman James Bailes said the board could not conclude the military achievements of Jenkins meet the current board standard for building names and would not be chosen today, but nevertheless, they did not feel it was appropriate to change the name.
“We believe it is the duty and responsibility of an institution of higher learning to provide its students a full and balanced view of history,” Bailes said. “The story of Gen. Jenkins is a significant part of the history of our state and our region. Removing the name Jenkins will not erase the mistakes in our nation’s history or the decisions in the history of Marshall University.”
Students for a Democratic Society, which led the push to rename Jenkins Hall, said in a statement they were disappointed in the decision to honor a slave holder.
“We understand the action not as a failure to act but a deliberate choice to uphold the memorialization of a terrorist in light of far more suitable candidates like Nellie Francisco, Josephine Barnett, the people enslaved by Jenkins, or the Marshall Lab School,” the statement reads. “On an optimistic note, we are eager to be a part of the ongoing conversation about Jenkins that we hope goes beyond the plaque, that Jenkins’ status as a terrorist will not be merely a footnote to the wonderful building that unfortunately bears his name.”
The committee examined all the building names on campus and concluded Jenkins Hall was the only one needing to be reconsidered.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.