Education

Duke to leave open former Robert E. Lee statue space at Chapel pending campus input

Vandals struck the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, center, outside Duke Chapel on Duke University’s West Campus in mid-August 2017. The statue was later removed.
Vandals struck the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, center, outside Duke Chapel on Duke University’s West Campus in mid-August 2017. The statue was later removed. ctoth@heraldsun.com, Aug. 18, 2017 file photo

Duke University President Vincent E. Price has accepted a commission’s recommendation to leave the space in front of Duke Chapel open for now so that “an open and deliberative process that will involve all members of the Duke community” can take place.

In an email to the Duke community Saturday, Price shared the 20-page report from the Commission on Memory and History, which was created on Sept. 1 following the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee from the entrance to Duke Chapel.

The commission — led by Duke alumnus and trustee emeritus Frank E. Emory Jr. and professor Grainne Fitzsimons — had a three-fold charge: to propose principles to guide the president and the Board of Trustees when an issue arises related to the appropriateness of a memorial or the naming of a facility on campus; to apply these principles in recommending options regarding the vacant space in the front of Duke Chapel; and to advise the president and Board of Trustees in the development of procedures for future questions about memorials or the naming of a facility on campus.

After meeting, deliberating, reviewing the history of the statue and soliciting and receiving input from more than 200 people, the commission suggested two recommendations for the vacant space outside the chapel: leave the space open to give more time for study or name a person now who would represent “the values and principles of the university.” The commission’s report said two candidates in particular – both reverends -- received substantial support: Martin Luther King Jr. and Durham human rights advocate Pauli Murray.

The commission’s preferred recommendation was to leave the space open for a year before taking further action.

“I am persuaded by the Commission’s conclusion that the decision about who, or what, to commemorate in that most public of spaces on campus deserves a more expansive, thoughtful and inclusive conversation than could be held to this point,” Price wrote in his email. “Thus, I am accepting the Commission’s first recommendation of leaving the space vacant and initiating an open and deliberative process that will involve all members of the Duke community.”

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