The University of Virginia is nearly ready to start removing its statue of George Rogers Clark, a process that officials expect to cost about $400,000.
The statue’s depiction of Native Americans led to calls for its removal.
Colette Sheehy, senior vice president for operations at UVa, said Friday at a Board of Visitors committee meeting that the university is prepared to issue a request for proposals this month for firms to remove the statue, relocate it and store it. The $400,000 estimate also includes work to repair the site following removal.
Sheehy said school officials hope to have the statue removal finished this summer. Then, the university will start talking with students and the Indigenous community about what should go on the site.
UVa’s Board of Visitors voted in September in support of removing the statue, one of several recommendations put forth by the university’s racial equity task force. The board’s Buildings and Grounds Committee heard the removal update Friday morning.
The committee also voted to change the name of the Frank Hume Memorial Fountain to the Whispering Wall.
The full board met in the afternoon at the Boar’s Head Resort to wrap up three days of meetings and approved a statement of free speech principles. A committee of UVa students, staff, faculty and alumni, representing diverse and divergent views, drafted the statement.
The two-page statement outlines the university’s commitment to free expression and free inquiry, affirming that “all views, beliefs and perspectives” deserve to be spoken and heard without interference.
“The university must not stifle protected expression, permit others to obstruct or shut down such expression, or regulate the tone or content of responses that stop short of interfering with others’ speech or violating the law,” the statement reads. “Rather than seek to control speech or countenance its silencing, the university must promote values of mutual respect, while emphasizing that their vitality rests with the self-governance of speakers and listeners.”
Other universities have adopted similar statements, including the University of Chicago in 2014.
UVa President Jim Ryan said the committee was created because free expression and free inquiry are central to UVa’s academic mission, “along with a number of controversies over the past several years with respect to issues of free speech, both at UVa and beyond.”
During the recent school year, a student who lived on the Lawn decorated her door with a sign that proclaimed “F*** UVa” and accused the school and UVa police of racism. Alumni decried the sign.
Ryan said the free speech statement wouldn’t have changed the university’s response had it been in place — because the sign was protected speech.
John Griffin, a board member who served on the committee, said the statement is an “enormous opportunity” for the university to distinguish itself.
“I really believe this could be a distinguishing characteristic of the University of Virginia as a place where different viewpoints are listened to or digested and with the ultimate goal of having better decisions, outcomes and beliefs,” he said.
In addition to the university’s commitment to free speech, the statement expresses how officials hope that students, faculty and the broader community engage with one another, Ryan said.
“Free and open inquiry inevitably involves conflicting views and strong disagreements,” the statement read. “Indeed, some ideas may be offensive, noxious and even harmful. We act as responsible members of a shared community when we engage as empathetic speakers and generous listeners.”
With the statement’s adoption, Ryan said the real work remains.
“That is to incorporate the statements’ values into the day-to-day life of UVa,” he said.
Following a board decision Friday, the Frank Hume Memorial will be renamed the Whispering Wall — the memorial’s nickname — and inscriptions about the former namesake will be removed. Those inscriptions will be replaced with blocks of a contrasting color, which will cost about $430,000, according to board documents.
Removal would have cost $1.5 million to $2 million.
UVa Architect Alice Raucher said it would be difficult to replace the inscription-bearing blocks with a material that would match the existing structure.
“A much better approach is to be more deliberate about the contrast,” she said.
Frank Hume, a Confederate soldier, had no direct connection to UVa or the Charlottesville area. Rather, the memorial was paid for by his sons who attended the university.
The racial equity task force recommended that the board explore the rededication or removal of the Hume memorial wall, which the board supported in September. The Naming and Memorials Committee recommended in May that the memorial be renamed along with the other changes.
UVa students, led by the Minority Rights Coalition, sought the removal of the memorial, according to The Cavalier Daily.
The Naming and Memorials Committee, in its letter to Ryan, said it did not want to completely erase the history of the university’s original decision.
“Our aim, then, in making this recommendation to President Ryan and the board is neither to erase history nor to change it, but to enliven present and future generations — whose lives, like ours, are invested in our ambitious educational enterprise — to the circumstances under which a significant feature of the built environment on our Grounds was created and named,” the committee wrote. “We seek to inculcate a deeper understanding of why history matters to our university culture and to the values we publicly espouse.”