GALLOWAY — The bust of Richard Stockton has been removed from Stockton University’s campus library in an attempt to address a longtime controversy surrounding the college’s slave-owning namesake, college officials said Thursday.
Although recent protests have erupted around the country over other controversial statues, Stockton University President Harvey Kesselman said that controversy about the college’s namesake has been going on for several years.
“If you look in our 40th (anniversary), you’ll see that the discussion began to take place then,” he said, adding even during the university’s founding it was controversial. “It never was placed in context and I think that’s the most important thing about this.”
The bust of Stockton was on display at the Richard E. Bjork Library. It was taken down Wednesday. Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, also owned slaves.
Stockton Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Lori Vermeulen sent a letter to the campus community Thursday to inform them of the decision to remove the statue.
Vermeulen said the mission of Stockton University — “to develop engaged and effective citizens with a commitment to lifelong learning and the capacity to adapt to change in a multicultural, interdependent world” — affords the university the responsibility to provide an opportunity for students to learn about the facts surrounding Richard Stockton’s place in American history as well as in Stockton’s history.
The removal of the bust is temporary, and will return with an exhibit that is being developed that will show a more historical perspective and one that will allow meaningful dialog about Richard Stockton as a controversial figure, Vermeulen explained.
A bust of Richard Stockton was removed from the Stockton University library to address a longtime controversy about the college's slave-owning namesake. Was this a good idea?
One student on Thursday, incoming Stockton senior Sarah Amin of Egg Harbor Township, said she thinks removal of the statue is an “overreaction.”
Kesselman said the timing of the removal is relevant, thanks to recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and other cities around the country. He said he expects backlash, but the university tries to give an educational perspective to all issues and have a transparent conversation.
“Particularly at public institutions of higher education, it’s a marketplace of ideas. One of the things that can happen is it is a place where people are able to express themselves hopefully in civil ways to discuss issues of relevance to them,” Kesselman said.
Dylan Perry, a Stockton senior from Upper Township weighed in on the removal.
“I really never heard anyone make a comment or complaint about Richard Stockton. I do know he was a signer if the Declaration of Independence and otherwise not much is known about him. But I think removing the bust is an overreaction,” he said.
“The real problem in our nation is not statues of historical figures. Rather the problem is that we have people in our nation with hate in their hearts. I understand we are in a PC era but removing statues will not change things. Rather, addressing the feelings that caused those statues to be removed would be a good plan going forward,” Perry said.
Kesselman said the college formed several committees this year, including one to address the Stockton bust. He said the committee will “take a very close look and have an honest and fair assessment of how we got to where we are.”
Vermeulen is meeting next week with student and faculty campus leaders to develop the committee.
“It’s a really great opportunity for a teachable moment, talk across differences, talk about different points of view,” Vermeulen said. “It’s really going to provide a good opportunity for our students and the community at large.”
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