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Oct. 20, 2020 LA GRANDE, Ore. – Following lengthy research, the Pierce Library Naming Committee submitted its report to Eastern Oregon University President Tom Insko in August.
Insko requested the report and charged a committee made up of students, faculty and staff to complete the work necessary to evaluate a name change. The report is on the agenda for EOU’s Board of Trustees during its regular meeting Nov. 12. The report recommends removal of the library’s name. The Board will review written testimony and hear public testimony before voting.
“We must never be complacent in prioritizing the values of justice and equity in the work we do every day at EOU, and we must intentionally carry these values into every conversation we have in this community and every decision we make as leaders of the university,” Insko said. “The name of the library is one of those conversations that continues within, and outside of, the EOU community.”
The library’s namesakes, Walter and Cornelia Pierce, held a number of public leadership roles in Oregon during the first half of the 20th Century. Walter served as a state senator and as Governor of Oregon in the early 1920s and later in the U.S. Congress. Cornelia was State Librarian and advocated for policies her husband promoted. Shortly after Walter’s death in 1954, the State Board of Higher Education named the library for him, and then 45 years later a committee of faculty members recommended changing the name to include Cornelia.
That 1999 committee researched Pierce’s legacy to uncover whether he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. While they found insufficient evidence to determine his membership in the KKK, it became clear he had curried favor with the Klan to win the governorship. Transcripts from Pierce’s speeches, as well as legislation he fought to pass, reveal anti-Catholic, xenophobic and white supremacist beliefs, according to the committee’s report.
Over the interceding years, students have continued to question the naming. In 2018, EOU’s student government leaders called for a re-consideration of the library’s name along with the Faculty Senate, and Insko established a committee to lead an investigation. The committee of students, faculty, staff and administration identified criteria against which to judge the appropriateness of the name, and discussed whether the Pierces’ actions align with EOU’s values and principles.
Students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members are encouraged to read the report and supplemental information and to submit written testimony at eou.edu/pierce-library-renaming. Written comments received by Nov. 9 will be shared with trustees prior to the meeting.
A limited opportunity for oral public comment will be available via Zoom video conferencing when the Board considers this agenda item. Individuals wishing to provide oral comment must sign up through the Oral Public Comment Form by Nov. 9. Time constraints may limit the number of people allowed to make oral comments.
“As an academic institution, we endeavor to make decisions based on research and facts, and to follow a thorough process when making decisions that impact our campus environment so that a broad spectrum of voices and perspectives can be heard,” Insko said. “This also ensures we can all learn and be engaged in those discussions and decisions.”
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