East Carolina University has nearly 100 buildings named after individuals with significant ties to the school and eastern North Carolina region.
Who these people were and are, and whether their actions reflect the university’s values and mission, is an issue a new ad hoc committee will explore.
The Review of Building Names Ad Hoc Committee is meeting remotely at 10 a.m. today to discuss a list of building names and determine which ones need further review by the university archivists and historians, according to an ECU news release.
Vice Chancellor for University Advancement Chris Dyba said his office has been contacted by several alumni who asked about the names on some campus buildings. Those requests motivated Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson to create the naming committee.
The committee will look at the historical origins of building names on campus, said Gerald Prokopowicz, an ECU history professor who is the committee’s chairman. The group will start with names that have been presented as potentially problematic, then look at others, he said.
ECU has many buildings named for individuals who were prominent figures of the early 20th century, when white supremacy was an accepted belief among white North Carolinas, Prokopowicz said.
The committee offers a chance to address the issue all at once, instead of erasing one building name at a time and extending the controversies that arise, he said.
“In 2015, when ECU transitioned the Aycock name to Heritage Hall, the board of trustees was ahead of the national curve,” Prokopowicz said. “I think Duke (University) had just changed the name of one of its buildings named for Aycock. … We took action before a lot of places, with plenty of debate but much less discord.
“So I think the idea of returning to the topic in 2020 shows the board is aware much has changed and they are being proactive again in at least taking a fresh look at the issue,” he said.
Aycock, who served as North Carolina’s governor from 1901-05, was known for establishing universal public education in the state but also for working to disenfranchise black voters.
ECU’s discussions about removing Aycock’s name began in 2014 when Duke University removed his name from one of its dorms.
It became emblematic of a larger nationwide discussion about how public figures with problematic pasts should be remembered and honored.
In 2016, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro removed Aycock’s name from an auditorium. This summer, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill voted to remove the names of Aycock, Julian S. Carr and Josephus Daniels from buildings on its campus.
“A great deal has happened in the last five years in terms of our society coming to terms in recognizing our past. Things we took for granted as part of our landscape are recognized as deep sources of pain for our fellow citizens,” Prokopowicz said.
His goal is to report the committees’ findings to ECU’s Board of Trustees in the spring.