What to Know
- A student at the University of Texas at Arlington wants a bust of the school's first president removed, citing racism.
- Ernest Hereford was named UTA's first president n 1948, when the school was known as North Texas Agricultural College.
- UTA administrators did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A student leader at the University of Texas at Arlington is organizing a petition drive to take down a statue of the school's first president, who the student claims was racist, and remove the president's name from the student center.
Ernest Hereford became president of UTA in 1948, when it was known as North Texas Agricultural College, and steered the school to growth in its early years.
"If we're honoring Hereford because he expanded the school, then we need to be honest about the other stuff he did," said Mark Napieralski, president of the Progressive Student Union.
The student center was named after Hereford in 1959, the year after he died, and a statue of his bust is on display near a busy door to campus.
Over the years, the bust has become something of a good luck charm. Students rub its head before big exams.
Napieralski, a senior from Bedford majoring in art, said Hereford was racist and supported discrimination on campus.
"And when they find out they're horrified,” Napieralski said.
Napieralski said the history is documented in old yearbooks showing Hereford allowed the Ku Klux Klan on campus as a student group, authorized mock slave auctions and changed the school's mascot to the Rebels.
Napieralski said he wants the school to instead honor former students who pushed for desegregation in the 1960s “because those students are more in line to where we are today rather than Hereford who legit had the Klan on campus,” he said.
He wrote an article for the student newspaper, the Shorthorn, and planned to take his fight to the student congress Tuesday night. The petitions carry no legal weight but pressure UTA administrators to make the changes.
UTA is now one of the most diverse universities in the country.
And not everyone agrees about removing Hereford's name and bust.
"Taking down a statue is not going to change what happened," said UTA junior Jeremy Meredith of Tyler. "It doesn't matter if they take it down or not. I mean the history is still there."
But Napieralski said it's the symbolism that counts.
"We need to honor the students who made us who we are today, not who we were then," he said.
UTA traces its original roots to Arlington College in 1895. Hereford became its first president in 1946. It was previously headed by deans.
UTA administrators didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.