Description of the Diligence Process Conducted by the Ad Hoc Committee on Naming
More than two years ago, the Curry School leadership began a process of diligence inquiry into the namesake of the school, Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, given his role not only in advancing public education in the South but also as a defender of slavery prior to the Civil War. As the Curry School looked ahead, with regard to mission, focus, and impact on the public good, it was deemed useful to assess the extent to which the honorific names it has used for the past 50-100 years, including both Curry and Ruffner (one of the school’s associated buildings), are closely aligned to our mission and core values. On November 19, 2018, Dean Pianta announced plans for a review of the namesakes associated with the school, Jabez L. M. Curry and William H. Ruffner. This review, which was conducted in alignment with the University of Virginia Naming Policy, was announced in a memo to key stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, and Curry Foundation Board members. Dean Pianta charged an Ad Hoc Committee on Naming, co-chaired by Professors Robert Berry (Curry School) and Susan Kools (School of Nursing), to conduct due diligence to inform further considerations or recommendations. The Ad Hoc Committee on Naming included members from all key stakeholder groups.
Co-chairs met with Dean Pianta to review the recently-endorsed EXT-004 Naming Policies for the University of Virginia (10/12/18) for the naming of buildings and schools and to clarify the charge of the committee as conducting a due diligence process by collecting data about the lives and work of both Curry and Ruffner. It was clarified that the committee charge did not include making a recommendation regarding renaming. [Recommendations would be deliberated at the University-level the Ad Hoc Committee on Naming with a review of this committee’s diligence.] The committee clearly understood that its charge was to conduct due diligence and prepare a summary of information that would be shared with a broad range of stakeholders to inform them and solicit any reflections from them.
The committee began their work in November 2018, which continued through September 2019. Initial meetings with committee members reviewed the charge of the committee and identified principles of engagement with one another, the scope of work, and internal processes for elevating potential instances of implicit bias or deviation from the charge. Committee members were given the EXT-004 Naming Policies for the University of Virginia (10/12/18) to review as well as Dean Pianta’s memo describing the charge.
Over several months, extensive archival research on Curry and Ruffner was conducted in historical collections of the Small Special Collections Library, including a review of both primary and secondary sources relevant to each man’s background and work. The committee members emphasized reliance on primary sources.
Throughout this period, the committee also deliberated and planned the means through which they would share their work and the structure of that information.
Relevant sources were uploaded to a dedicated Collab site, and committee members reviewed all materials derived from archival research. Sources were divided and assigned to committee members for deeper review and annotation.
Committee members’ document reviews were presented and discussed at a committee meeting to develop key points to include in abstracted biographies of Curry and Ruffner. Upon completion of the reviews, the committee came to a consensus on the key points to be included in the biographies.
The first drafts of Curry and Ruffner’s biographies were written by a historian who served on the committee. This draft was reviewed and edited by Co-Chairs Berry and Kools to ensure an objective, balanced, and dispassionate presentation of discovered facts.
A member of the committee with expertise in educational history created a timeline of the educational context in which these men lived and worked. Other important historical milestones were integrated into the contextual timeline.
It was determined that additional research was needed to provide details on Ruffner that were difficult to derive from readily available sources. A Ph.D. student in history was hired to conduct additional archival research at the Library of Virginia in Richmond, where Ruffner’s papers are held. Ruffner’s biography was elaborated with additional content from this archival research.
The committee discussed ideas for the best mechanism through which to present the diligence findings. It was decided that a dedicated website could be created as a repository for biographies, timeline, and data sources for stakeholder review and commentary. This plan was reviewed and approved by Dean Pianta.
Co-Chairs Berry and Kools met with a faculty member with expertise in web design who presented other websites that demonstrated potential ways that a website could be structured.
An initial format for the landing page was developed and reviewed with the committee.
A graphic designer was hired to work with the web designer, Co-Chairs Berry and Kools, and a communications point person for Curry to develop several initial ideas for the structure of the website.
Preliminary designs were reviewed by the committee, and decisions were made on key aspects of content presentation. The committee consulted with communications personnel to ensure that the website would be consistent/compatible with the larger Curry website. Recommendations were reviewed with Dean Pianta who provided additional feedback.
Versions of the website were iterated to create a prototype to be reviewed by the committee and Dean Pianta.
Dean Pianta met with University leaders to discuss the launch of the website, endorse a mechanism for eliciting key stakeholder feedback, and develop a communications plan for the launch process and potential responses.
A final prototype was selected and refined. Plans for launching were made.