It was going to happen eventually. The lure to mug for the crowds, and show how trendy and correct we are at the same time, would have to be too much for President Loh to resist. And so it was:
University of Maryland president recommends changing name of Byrd Stadium, citing legacy of racism, says the headlines.
But let’s think back for a moment, not to the era of Curley Bird but to 1991, when the campus refused an Hispanic man the opportunity to compete for a minority scholarship. The campus was sued, fought it and lost, with the federal court declaring our practices unconstitutional. Ultimately the University of Maryland appeal to the Supreme Court was denied cert in 1995.
The case was Podberesky v. Kirwan – yes, our Brit Kirwan – which means that in October of this year we named our mathematics department’s building after the named defendant in a fight to unconstitutionally deny Hispanics a minority scholarship opportunity.
The University of Maryland was on the wrong side of history in that case, just as it was in 1935 when it was sued for not admitting a black man to its law school. Its the side of history where Curley Bird sits too.
Let’s be clear: Brit Kirwan is a spectacular scholar and has given a lifetime of service to this campus and state. Yes, he has championed race-based practices in admissions and other campus policies, some of which persist today. But contemporaries viewed them as appropriate to the era, even though reasonable people who might have been looking further into the future disagreed. He is very deserving of having a math building named after him, and a lot more for that matter. Maybe Curley Bird deserves some slack too? And after all – the stadium is a monument to everything people have won since his era. Victors in that civil rights battle walk on that field every day. Renaming it takes that away.
As for President Loh: lots of luck explaining how naming facilities for people who discriminated against black people is bad, whereas naming facilities for people who discriminated against Hispanics is okay.