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Greenville Business Magazine

Clemson Trustees approve Honors College name change

Jun 15, 2020 12:11PM ● By David Dykes

Staff Report 

CLEMSON — The Clemson University Board of Trustees approved changing the name of the university’s honors college to Clemson University Honors College, effective immediately. The college has been named the Calhoun Honors College since 1982.

The trustees also approved a resolution requesting authority from the South Carolina General Assembly to restore Tillman Hall to its original name of the Main Building, commonly called “Old Main.”

The Clemson campus is built on John C. Calhoun’s Fort Hill Plantation. Calhoun not only owned an antebellum southern agricultural plantation of over 1,000 acres, but also some 70-80 enslaved African-Americans, according to historical accounts on the university's website.

Former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Benjamin Tillman's legacy for South Carolina and the nation is complex and often disturbing, the website says.

African-Americans and white Americans often interpret Tillman's accomplishments in contradictory ways, the website says. It says that while bringing several progressive reforms to the state, he also was at the forefront of the movement to marginalize and disfranchise Black Southerners further in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

“Clemson University has a long-celebrated history of tradition and excellence, but we must recognize there are central figures in Clemson’s history whose ideals, beliefs and actions do not represent the university’s core values of respect and diversity,” said Clemson Chairman Smyth McKissick. 

The action by the board "acknowledges that now is the time to move forward together as a more unified Clemson Family in order to make our university stronger today and into the future,” he said.

In 2018, the board asked Provost Robert Jones to lead a task force to study and make recommendations on ways to enhance the quality and relevance of the honors college. 

The board approved the recommendations from the provost, endorsed by President Jim Clements, which include setting the goal of becoming  a nationally ranked, top-tier honors college; creating a dean position to oversee the college; creating a strategic plan for the college; and renaming the college to Clemson University Honors College.

The board also adopted a resolution requesting the South Carolina General Assembly make a one-time exception to the state’s Heritage Act during the 2021 legislative session. 

The exception would give limited authority to the board to restore Tillman Hall to its original name of the Main Building. The resolution affirms that the board won't seek further exceptions from the Heritage Act.

University officials said the actions were consistent with a process set in motion by the board in 2015 when it established a history task force to tell the full and complete history of Clemson.

During the past few years, the task force has taken several actions including erecting historical markers, documenting Clemson founders’ biographies, and updating historical signage to better reflect the complete history. 

The trustees are sending "a clear message that Clemson University intends to be a place where all our students, employees and guests feel welcome,” Clements said. “Our work in this area is far from finished, but we are committed to building on the progress we have made in the areas of diversity and inclusivity as we strive to serve our entire state and the nation.”