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Nov. 13, 2020 LA GRANDE, Ore. – After 66 years, the Pierce name has been removed from Eastern Oregon University’s library in La Grande.
The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to de-name the building during its first regular meeting of the academic year on Nov. 12. Members of the Pierce Library Naming Committee presented their findings after nearly two years of research. The committee recommended removal of the name and the installation of a historical sign inside the library acknowledging Pierce’s complicated legacy. EOU President Tom Insko also supported this two-part plan.
“We’re not erasing history, but choosing who we want to honor,” Insko said. “I do hope when students walk into our library and read the history that it continues the conversation at our academy and all of us are called to reflect. We are finding the balance between keeping the catalyst for conversation but removing the honor.”
The building was named in the early 1950s, shortly after Walter M. Pierce died, and later came to include his wife Cornelia who served as a state librarian. As governor of Oregon in the 1920s, Pierce invested in agriculture and infrastructure, while also promoting eugenics and passing legislation that prohibited Japanese Americans from owning property. His ties to the Ku Klux Klan have been central to previous inquiries about Pierce’s impact, but the committee’s work sought to expand discussion and include primary sources, such as direct quotes from his letters and speeches. Insko emphasized the importance of this academic approach.
“I want to create a supportive environment for our students, not necessarily a comfortable one because part of getting a higher education is about facing discomfort,” Insko said. “This committee didn’t just look at the question with an emotional response related to their comfort, but about whether it’s consistent with our values and principles. That’s also how I think in terms of these kinds of decisions as the president of this institution.”
Insko said he will not entertain immediate suggestions for alternative names. The cost associated with adjusting the library’s name in online archives, book stamps, websites and building signage will be borne out over time.
Extensive discussion from trustees reflected the large volume of input from community members, students, alumni and shared governance groups. Two community members also offered public comment during the meeting, both speaking in favor of de-naming the library. For Board Chair Richard Chaves, the decision came down to EOU’s Values and Principles.
“We shouldn’t be changing a name because we don’t like something that person did,” he said.”It has to be based on our values. I appreciate the two-part nature of the recommendation: to remove the name but keep the signage to acknowledge the history.”
Next steps for the university include developing a permanent display that describes Pierce’s legacy, and reviewing policies for naming campus buildings.
Trustees have also been at work establishing standards for evaluating and determining presidential compensation. They split the compensation package into three parts: base salary, Goal Attainment Award and Meritorious Achievement Award. Chaves said he plans to incorporate a distinct range for the one-time awards and introduce a scorecard for quarterly evaluations.
The board unanimously approved a 2.6% increase to the president’s base salary to accommodate cost of living increases and match the annual percent increases other university employees received. Trustees also approved a one-time Goal Attainment Award of $7,500 and a one-time Meritorious Achievement Award of $15,000 related to Insko’s leadership during the university’s COVID-19 response.
Trustee Bobbie Conner pointed out that recent years have seen very modest increases in presidential compensation.
“The president does not receive cost of living increases,” she said. “We have been extremely careful and conservative in past years, so we are covering ground this year that was owed in past years. We’re all fortunate when we can keep somebody pulling for us and on behalf of us without complaint.”
This is the first time Insko has received a bonus in addition to a base salary. Chaves will seek input from the board’s three committee chairs about what the maximum one-time award should be in the future as a percentage of the base salary.
Other financial matters included review of the university’s quarterly reports and operating budget. When trustees approved a provisional budget last June, the outlook for higher education funding was dire. In recent months, state funding and student enrollment have both delivered better results than anticipated.
The board approved an operating budget for the current academic year that was updated to exclude reductions. Although the university missed out on revenue from athletic camps and other group events that use EOU housing and dining services during the summer, additional investments are planned for academic programs including cyber security, public administration, Sustainable Rural Systems and the Rural Engagement and Vitality Center. It also includes funding for baseball and lacrosse coaches, new athletic programs that also receive funding from Sports Lottery and student tuition.
For three trustees, this was their first meeting as board members. Maurizio Valerio, who works with the Ford Family Foundation, Tamra Mabbott, a planner for Umatilla County and student representative Brittney Hamilton. Cheryl Martin was elected to serve as Vice Chair.
Trustees also heard a legislative update, reports from shared governance leaders, approved College of Education accreditation progress, signed onto an ethics affirmation, and reviewed minor updates to the university’s pandemic Resumption Plan. Full minutes and meeting materials can be found at eou.edu/governance. The next regular Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for Feb. 18, 2021.
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