Oregon State to rename Avery, Benton buildings; retain Gill Coliseum, Arnold Dining names

Oregon State University's Gill Coliseum, September 14, 2017. (SBG)

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oregon State will change the names of a building named for an advocate of slavery and two other buildings that share a name with a 19th century U.S. lawmaker who opposed abolishing slavery and favored removing Native Americans from Western lands, President Ed Ray announced Monday.

But Ray favors retaining the names of a former OSU president who was born into a slave-owning family and served in the Confederate army.

And the university president said he found no evidence to support contentions that the namesake of the school's basketball arena - Gill Coliseum - held discriminatory viewpoints.

The University of Oregon conducted a similar review, which resulted in stripping the name of a former Ku Klux Klan leader from a residence hall.

The announcement is the culmination of two years of public input and scholarly review, Ray said.

“By exploring our past, we will recognize that everything and everyone who preceded us, helped get us to who and where we are today,” Ray said. “This knowledge will guide us to improve. And in doing so, reconcile past injustices and provide for greater future inclusivity and success for all."

Ray explained his thinking in detail on each of the 5 buildings:

The preponderance of evidence gathered by the scholar’s report and this naming review process – and shared by other historians in the past – indicates that Joseph C. Avery’s views and political engagement in the 1850’s to advance slavery in Oregon are inconsistent with Oregon State’s values. At the time, he was linked to the Occidental Messenger, a pro-slavery, Corvallis-based publication. I recognize that Joseph C. Avery made important contributions in the early days to help establish Corvallis College, which became what is now OSU. I also am mindful that over the past decades, other members of the Avery family have contributed to OSU and I thank them for their support of the university. However, it is my decision that going forward, OSU will no longer recognize Joseph C. Avery’s legacy with the name of a university building.
It is clear from the scholar’s report and naming review process that Benjamin Lee Arnold, president of Corvallis College and Oregon Agricultural College from 1872-1892, was born into a Virginia family that owned slaves and benefitted from slavery. Benjamin Lee Arnold did not own slaves himself. It is also true that as a college student, he spent time studying slavery as an economic system. He also served within the Confederate Army – although it appears that he was frequently ill during the Civil War and details of his service are unclear. As president of Corvallis College, he led the institution to stability during a very difficult, formative time. He served as an administrator, taught classes, and contributed to fundraising so that the college could maintain its land grant status under the Morrill Act. It is not clear whether Arnold privately or publicly held or espoused discriminatory views, however, his contributions to the institution are evident and notable. As president, the college grew and women students and faculty were welcomed, nearly a century before Ivy League schools enrolled women. The college admitted and graduated its first Native American students during this time, as well. When the college changed from a church-related school to a public college in the mid-1880s, the new oversight board retained President Arnold in his position. It is my judgment that the preponderance of evidence supports retaining the name of Arnold Dining Center.
The university sought to honor the residents of Benton County in 1947 by naming OSU’s first building, Benton Hall. History shows that members of the community remarkably raised a significant amount of funds for the construction of the building in January 1887. This same community has since supported the university and its mission. In contrast, according to the scholar’s report and naming review process, the name of this building does not seek to honor former Missouri U.S. Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, who in the 1820’s through the 1850’s, was a national architect of westward expansion and promoter of Manifest Destiny, and for whom Benton County is named. During that era, Benton supported federal legislation to remove Native Americans from their tribal lands and, while he was opposed to extending slavery into western states, he was not in favor of abolishing slavery elsewhere. The current name of the building does not make this distinction clear. It is my judgment that the name of Benton Hall should be changed to a name that honors the contributions of community and county residents who believed in and invested in higher education early on. Thanks to their initial leadership and contributions, Oregon State University has endured and pursued its mission.
I find that the 1972 naming of this building and its connection to Benton Hall lacks an explanation. While the building has been an important part of the university since 1882, its current role serving as the OSU Women’s Center was not determined until 1973. Going forward, this building should have a new name that recognizes the important role that this center contributes to Oregon State.
It is my decision that this athletics center will continue to be named in honor of Amory T. “Slats” Gill, who served from 1928-64 as Oregon State’s basketball coach and eventually as athletic director. I find that the scholars’ report and naming review process offers no evidence that Gill deliberately sought to keep the Oregon State men’s basketball team from becoming integrated. I also find no evidence that he held or expressed discriminatory views about African-Americans. It appears Gill was a product of his time regarding the style of play of his teams, which he perfected. He coached at Oregon State during an era in which few African-Americans attended this institution, and those who did faced frequent discrimination. This was a troubled era in the university’s history, but I do not find that Gill supported such a lack of inclusivity. In fact, the historical review indicates he tried unsuccessfully to recruit several African-American student-athletes. While a tough taskmaster for all of his players, Gill also was active in the Corvallis community, serving on the school board and helping lead community and university organizations.

Ray directed the University's Architectural Naming Committee to "undertake a process that engages the overall Oregon State University community to consider and to recommend to me new names for these three buildings" this winter.

He also asked the committee to lead an effort to gather and document the history of all OSU buildings and their namesakes as the University celebrates its 150th year.

MORE | Background on the review of campus building names

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