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University of Texas may change dorm name that honors Klansman

By the CNN Wire Staff
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KKK member's name may be taken off dorm
  • Simkins Residence Hall was named for William Stewart Simkins
  • Simkins was prominent in the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War, later taught at the university
  • Controversy arose after research on how dorm came to be named for Simkins
  • University president will ask board of regents to rename hall

(CNN) -- A University of Texas at Austin student dormitory named after a man prominent in the Ku Klux Klan in the 1800s may soon have its name changed, university officials said.

University President William Powers Jr. will ask the university system's board of regents to rename Simkins Residence Hall, following a recommendation by a 21-member advisory group, according to a press release from the university.

Gregory Vincent, the university's vice president of diversity and community engagement, told CNN affiliate KXAN that naming a public building after a self-proclaimed racist compromised the university's image.

"We're certainly not erasing Professor Simkins from the annals of UT history," said Vincent. "All we are saying is that honorific is a very special designation and it should not harm the university's reputation."

If approved by board members, the building will be renamed Creekside Dormitory, for a creek that runs nearby, university officials said.

According to the university, the hall -- built in the 1950s to house male law students and graduate students -- was named for William Stewart Simkins, who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Simkins taught at the university's law school from 1899 until his death in 1929.

The controversy over the dorm name came after a former UT law professor Tom Russell initiated research on Simkins.

Published early this year, Russell's research article claimed that UT officials named the dorm in the 1950s after a Klan member as another way to intimidate African-Americans after the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. Board of Education.

"Professor Simkins helped to organize the Ku Klux Klan in Florida at the conclusion of the American Civil War, and he advocated his Klan past to Texas students," said Russell, now teaching at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law.

"During the 1950s, the memory and history of Professor Simkins supported the university's resistance to integration. As the university faced pressure to admit African-American students, the university's faculty council voted to name a dormitory after the Klansman and law professor," Russell wrote.

"During this time period, alumni also presented the law school with a portrait of Professor Simkins. Portraits and a bust of Professor Simkins occupied prominent positions within the law school through the 1990s," he said.

KXAN interviewed a handful of students who expressed differing views on the name change.

Jillian Underwood, a UT senior, told KXAN that the name swap could create more controversy.

"There are Confederate names on buildings here, so are we going to draw the line on the KKK, or are we going to take it all the way and get rid of everything? That would significantly change the campus," she said.

Benjamin Bamgbade, also a senior, said that the university should review more building names and make further changes.

"You don't want to make a group of people uncomfortable coming to this university," he said.

CNN's Helena de Moura contributed to this report.