The University of South Carolina formed its building renaming committee on Oct. 18, 2019, almost an entire year before LSU announced the formation of its committee on the same subject in August of 2020.
USC promised big change in their initial public statements on the situation, with USC President Caslen announcing, “It is... our intent to research university history—more broadly—to capture the voices and contributions of forgotten, excluded or marginalized groups and individuals who positively contributed to the establishment, maintenance and growth of our university."
That sounds great! The university is committing to renaming racist buildings!
On July 15, 2021, the Associated Press reported that “the University of South Carolina president has indicated he does not plan to ask the Legislature for permission to change the names of nearly a dozen campus buildings that a special committee says honors racists and Civil War figures."
That’s right, USC ignored its own committee and refused to rename these buildings bearing the names of racists. They ignored the committee largely on political grounds, ensuring they did not upset the high-ranking South Carolina legislative leaders resistant to renaming these buildings.
Is our university doomed to follow the same path?
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, President Tate’s new Chief Strategy Officer Mark Bieger was instrumental in crafting the public relations response surrounding the administration's refusal to rename buildings at USC.
As USC’s Interim President Harris Pastides remarked to a university communications official after news broke of the university's inaction, “Don’t they [the public] know that we weren’t planning to ask [the legislature to rename the buildings]?"
Cut to present day at LSU. The university has still not commented on the building name evaluation committee, despite its promise months ago of a continued dialogue with the university community.
Perhaps Tate and Bieger are bringing some lessons with them from their time at USC. They never intended to rename any of these buildings, and they will never be pressured to do so if the committee fails to finish its work.
University Spokesperson Ernie Ballard told the Louisiana Illuminator that “Tate is waiting to receive the building naming committee’s report before making public remarks.” Problem is, the committee is not actively meeting.
Just like at USC, Tate and Bieger are doing their utmost to stay in good graces with the same legislative Republicans who have attacked higher education at every turn. Are they getting déjà vu?
Charlie Stephens is a 21-year-old political communication junior from Baton Rouge.