The ASB Senate has spoken. Still, a colossal decision looms

Posted on Mar 6 2019 - 5:50am by Griffin Neal

The undergraduate students want it moved. The graduate students want it moved. On Thursday, the faculty senate will likely follow suit and request the Confederate monument be relocated to the Confederate cemetery. The on-campus shareholders have spoken. But the question still remains: Will the monument actually move?

Since the ASB Senate passed a resolution calling for the relocation of the monument Tuesday night, the life of the resolution rests in the hands of the administrators in the Lyceum. Following the resolution’s passage, ASB Vice President Walker Abel and President Elam Miller etched their names on the bill.

The resolution will now travel to the desks of Dean of Students Melinda Sutton Noss and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Brandi Hephner Labanc. If they sign, Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks will then be able to sign and thus affirm the resolution.

However, Sparks’s stamp of approval does not necessitate the relocation of the statue.

In 2017, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s office delivered an opinion concerning the relocation of Civil War monuments on state-owned land, concluding that “the governing body may move the memorial to a more suitable location if it is determined that the location is more appropriate to displaying the monument.”

The language in the opinion is ambiguous as to who or what constitutes the governing body with the authority to relocate the monument.

When asked about who the governing body on the Ole Miss campus is, a spokesman from Hood’s office said that the Attorney General “cannot give legal advice” and said to “refer to the opinion/code sections” for an answer. Hood’s office did, however, clarify that the opinion applies to all Confederate statues on state-owned land, meaning that the Ole Miss campus is within the opinion’s scope.

Neither the opinion nor state law makes explicit who or what the governing body is. If the university is legally decided to be the governing body, then Sparks’s signature would mean the process of relocating the statue could commence.

Both ASB and the Graduate Student Council claim to be a part of the governing body. They are two of the four groups that compose the university’s shared governance model: ASB, the Graduate Student Council, the Senate of the Faculty of the University of Mississippi and the Council of Academic Administrators.

At a faculty forum on Feb. 26, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel Erica McKinley said “we have found nothing to indicate” that the four groups of shared governance possess the ability to relocate the Confederate monument.

In a statement released shortly after the resolution’s passage, Associate Director of Strategic Communications Rod Guajardo commended the ASB Senate but did not clarify what body will make the final decision.

“As an institution of higher learning, we rely on a model of shared governance, of which the Associated Student Body is one constituency,” the statement read. “This student-led resolution will now be shared with ASB leadership for final sign-off before being circulated for acknowledgement by the appropriate University of Mississippi administrators.”

How did we get here?

While the debate concerning the statue’s status on campus intensified when neo-Confederate protesters marched in support of the statue on Feb. 23, the resolution calling for its removal has been in the works for months.

In January, the resolution’s six authors crafted a resolution calling for the statue to be relocated to the Confederate cemetery on the grounds that it violates the University of Mississippi Creed and its mission to maintain a safe and inclusive environment on campus.

As the Feb. 23 neo-Confederate rally grew near, members of student minority organizations like the Black Student Union and Students Against Social Injustice organized counterprotests and demonstrations, many of which culminated at the Confederate statue on the Circle.

The impending clash awoke local and regional news. After all, the deadly Charlottesville rallies were less than two years ago. However, it wasn’t until eight black members of the Ole Miss men’s basketball team took a knee during the national anthem before a game, just 200 yards away in The Pavilion, that the protests took hold.

The players’ peaceful protest marked the first time in NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball history that student-athletes had knelt during the national anthem. Their protest was in direct response to the neo-Confederate sympathizers’ march on campus.

The New York Times, The Washington Post, ESPN and many other major news outlets circulated the story.

Once again, the eyes of the nation were fixated upon Oxford.

Five days later, a resolution that had been in the works since January passed the ASB Senate Rules Committee, paving the way for Tuesday night’s unanimous 47-0 vote.

The day before, the Graduate Student Council Senate passed a nearly identical resolution — adding only one clause denouncing white supremacy — by a vote of 15-4 with one abstention.

The period from neo-Confederate protest to the passage of legislation took 10 days and was primarily student-driven.

In 2015, when the ASB Senate voted to cease flying the Mississippi state flag on campus, the process from final vote to removal took five days. Removing the flag and relocating the statue are two thoroughly different procedures, but the impetus and circumstances surrounding the two are shockingly similar.

Morris Stocks was the interim chancellor who oversaw the flag’s removal. Before Stocks made the final decision, he consulted with Jeffrey Vitter — the then-preferred candidate for chancellor — and informed him of the reasoning behind his decision.

Three-and-a-half years later, Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks sits in a precarious position. Sparks will not be the long-term chancellor of the university, and there is no preferred candidate yet waiting to assume the role.

When Stocks elected to remove the state flag from campus, Ole Miss became the fourth university in the state to cease flying the flag and was part of a greater trend of colleges and statehouses across the South distancing themselves from Confederate iconography.

Concerning the statue, similar processes have taken place at universities across the country, most notably at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Should Sparks sign the resolution when it comes across his desk, he will grant the demands of his student body and his faculty.

However, Sparks hasn’t given any indication as to whether he will sign the resolution or not, nor has he directly commented on the ASB Senate’s voting process.

Sparks hasn’t made any public comments or released a statement since before the protests dominated his campus on Feb. 23.

After unanimously passing through the ASB Senate on Tuesday night, the resolution calling for the Confederate monument to be relocated to the Confederate cemetery is in the hands of Dean of Students Melinda Sutton Noss. Both Sutton Noss and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc must sign it before Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks can sign.