University of Oregon board of trustees member Andrew Colas requested an emergency vote in the next two weeks to rename Deady Hall during Thursday’s board meeting, in light of protests across the country against police brutality.
Matthew Deady, after whom the university’s first building is named, was appointed to the position of President of the UO Board of Regents in 1873. He was a pro-slavery delegate to the Oregon constitutional convention, and Colas read quotes from Deady detailing his racism, including saying that Black people are just as much property as “horses, cattle and land.”
“I cannot accept a person who would see me and believe that I am as good as a horse, cattle or a piece of land. That wrecks me inside,” Colas said Thursday.
Because of Oregon’s public meeting laws that require advanced notice, the board couldn’t debate or vote on renaming the building during Thursday’s meeting.
“We will visit about this and see what we want to do here,” Board Chair Chuck Lillis said.
Campus activists have worked for years to push the university to rename buildings that are named after individuals who held racist beliefs. In 2015, the Black Student Task Force released a list of 12 demands to the UO administration, one of them being renaming buildings originally named after people with a relation to the Ku Klux Klan.
The board voted to change the name of Dunn Hall, named after a KKK member who was a classics professor at the UO, to Unthank Hall, in 2017. The hall is now named after DeNorval Unthank Jr., the first Black student to graduate from the UO’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts.
But UO President Michael Schill decided to not rename Deady Hall that same year. In the course of that decision, the board of trustees compiled a report on the subject.
“In my view, the facts set forth in the historian’s report do not support overturning the presumption of renaming Deady Hall,” Schill said in 2017 about his decision not to rename the building, according to previous Emerald reporting.
Colas told the other members of the board that he has been re-reading that report.
“I read this then, and I read it again now. I wasn’t comfortable with it then,” Colas told the board Thursday.
Colas said he felt he had to call for the board to revisit “de-naming our landmark institution as Deady Hall.”
Colas is the only Black person on the current board of trustees. “It’s hard being the only Black person on a board,” he said. “I’m always that person and I push as much as I can, but it really gets hard. And I hope every one of you — every single one of you — will align with me in understanding that we have to be the university that takes a stand on this, and we have to be the first.”
Colas said that he believes UO is the best university in the United States because it makes good decisions. “I am calling on all of you to take action,” Colas said, “and we have to take action firmly, for the sake of our institution and for the sake of our country.” He said that having the building named after Deady is “a liability to our university as a whole.”
“I can hardly stand to say what I’m about to say,” Lillis said, “but, as you know, because we did not announce this in advance, in the strange rules in Oregon, we can’t consider it [in this meeting].”
Schill thanked Colas for “that impassioned and very sincere and moving description.” He said that he was looking forward to a conversation with Colas about the subject.
Saul Hubbard, a university spokesperson, share the following statement with the Emerald shortly after this story was originally published:
“Oregon Public Meetings Law requires that all public bodies, including the UO Board of Trustees, provide adequate notice to the public and news media about any potential action they will be considering at a meeting.
Trustee Colas’ genuine and heartfelt comments today were impromptu and therefore the board was unable to take action on his request at this meeting.
Board Chair Chuck Lillis said Colas’ comments ‘meant a lot to a lot of people’ and that the board would consider taking up his request in a way that complies with Oregon’s public meetings laws.”
This story is developing and will be updated.