COLUMBIA, Mo. – The University of Missouri Board of Curators on Thursday rejected a recommendation to “contextualize” the Thomas Jefferson statue and tombstone on MU’s campus.
The recommendation came from a task force put together by UM System President Mun Choi after some students demanded the statue be removed. A task force of which three of the MU curators served on.
The task force met six times between August and December of last year to discuss potential outcomes before delivering their recommendation to the Board in January.
The contextualization that was recommended included putting a sign with roughly 300 words of text near the statue and tombstone along with a QR code that links to more information about Jefferson. The Board of Curators rejected Curator Greg Hoberock’s resolution by a vote of 4-4. Curators Brncic, Graham, Hoberock and Williams voted in favor of adding a QR code to the statue, while Curators Chatman, Graves, Layman and Wenneker voted against the change.
The Board then voted on a resolution to not adopt any of the task force’s recommendations, which was passed comfortably with a vote of 7-1. Therefore, there will be no changes being made to the statue and tombstone as a result of the meeting.
“The board agrees with the task force that Jefferson is a ‘complex historical figure,’ however, after careful consideration, further concludes that to adequately and in proper context refer to Jefferson’s accomplishments and shortcomings within the confines of a wayside sign would be unattainable,” the passed resolution read.
“Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the University of Missouri Board of Curators does not adopt the recommendation of the committee.”
Hoberock, the Curator who authored the resolution rejecting the recommendations, said the sign would “cause more harm than good” and that he doesn’t think it’s fair to judge Jefferson on today’s societal standards.
“I fundamentally don’t believe that I should be judging the actions of individuals that occurred 250 years ago or 200 years ago by the standards we employ today.”
MU Curator Todd Graves said he voted against the recommendation because he believes that students and faculty have the ability to make their own conclusions without any help from the University.
“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 and I don’t know that we need to give them a road map or an officially sanctioned view, a university-sanctioned view of what they need to read or consider or think about,” Graves said.
MU Curator Jeff Layman said he voted against the task force’s recommendations because he doesn’t feel that it’s the Board of Curators’ decision to decide which facts will be told about Jefferson.
“If you do a Google search, as we mentioned, we have 192 million results on Thomas Jefferson,” Layman said. “There’s a lot of facts there, but I don’t see how it’s our role to kind of limit down the facts of Thomas Jefferson.”
This was the Board of Curators’ first in-person meeting since February of 2020 when they moved to online meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.