COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
The University of Missouri Board of Curators on Thursday rejected a task force's recommendation to put an interpretive sign next to the statue of Thomas Jefferson on the Columbia campus.
The curators rejected a task force's recommendation for the sign in a 7-1 vote. The board members who voted against the sign said they did so because they did not know how to add proper context to the statue -- not because context about Jefferson's life was not needed. District One curator Julia Brncic was the lone vote in favor of adding the sign.
Todd Graves, District six curator said it was not the job of the curators to decide what a sign about Thomas Jefferson should say.
"This is supposed to be an institution of higher learning where our students and our faculty are capable of making decisions and exploring these things. I don't know that we need to give them a road map or an officially sanctioned view or institutionally sanctioned view," Graves said.
UM System President Mun Choi created a task force to study the issue after protests over racial equity and social justice last summer that prompted calls to remove the statue. The task force has met six times since August. Choi has said the statue will not be removed from campus.
Christine Holt spoke for the task force today at the meeting.
"As part of the charge the group was to explore ways to contextualize the contributions of the life and legacy of Thomas Jefferson, certainly to look at his strengths as well as his shortcoming," Holt said.
The resolution that the task force recommended included a sign with 300 words explaining the words explaining the good and bad about Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson is the third president of the United States and one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence. His legacy has come under scrutiny in recent years because of his slaveowner status and fathering children with Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman in his household.
Curator Darry Chatman, District three curator said he was confident with the decision the curators came to Thursday, he said they were doing the right thing.
"There will be people that will be upset, I know there are some people that may be ecstatic, but I think we it's a very humbling moment to have to make these decisions. These are not times that we consider to be happy but we feel like we are doing the work of the university and we feel like we did the right thing," Chatman said.
Chatman acknowledged that there was disagreement during the vote.
"I do think that there was significant disagreement it was on display, but I do think we came down to the right decision. Even though we didn't all agree in the end we came down to a majority," Chatman said.
Previously, two people were arrested for vandalizing the statue and area with paint and graffiti. The university responded by putting an acrylic case around the founding father's original headstone, which sits near the statue.
According to the task force's final report, the wording of the sign would have included why the statue is on the campus and also Jefferson's accomplishments and shortcomings. The sign would have outlined the fact Jefferson was a slave owner who owned over 600 slaves throughout his life and had six children with an enslaved woman in his household, Sally Hemings.
The recommendation included putting a QR code on the sign that would link those who scan it to resources with more information about Jefferson.