The new leader of the Florida Senate wants to afford more freedom to state universities wishing to rename buildings previously designated by the state Legislature.
Senate President Bill Galvano, after assuming the chamber’s top spot last week, told reporters that he supports “a framework for universities to do their naming and having flexibility, instead of having the Legislature micromanage that issue.”
That means legislation likely won’t specifically address Florida State University’s law school building. It currently is named after the late Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice B.K. Roberts.
Instead, expect any forthcoming bills to target naming decisions as a whole.
FSU President John Thrasher announced in July that the university would seek to rename the law school building after a special panel recommended the change.
Roberts wrote the state Supreme Court’s 1957 majority opinion to deny law school admission to an African-American student, Virgil Hawkins.
The opinion is considered a pro-segregation action that defines a “more troublesome legacy” than his “instrumental role” in spawning the university’s law school, Thrasher wrote.
“To keep the name of B.K. Roberts on the law school building would continue to honor someone whose decisions and actions do not reflect Florida State University’s values or the rule of law,” continued Thrasher, a former House Speaker and state Senator.
In 1973, the Legislature designated the law school building’s name.
“As a result, removing or changing the name of the building would require an act of the Legislature,” according to a memo from FSU.
“University representatives have had conversations with legislative leaders, and will defer to the House and Senate on the best way to move forward because the law school was named by an act of the Florida Legislature,” Dennis Schnittker, a spokesman for the university, told Florida Politics.
The 37-member panel, which meets every 20 years to revise the state’s governing document, supported a measure that would have prevented honoring public office holders via name designations until they left office.
But the idea was ultimately scrapped as commissioners drafted ballot items.
Thrasher spawned the renaming panel in 2017 after the racially charged and violent riots in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Then, Thrasher condemned the white supremacist movement behind the riots. The panel met nine times throughout the academic year.
Along with changing the name of the law school, the panel recommended removing a statue honoring Francis Eppes, a grandson of Thomas Jefferson. It also suggested renaming nearby Eppes Hall.
Eppes was largely credited with helping to found the university in the nineteenth century. The panel found that he was a “prominent citizen, community leader, four-time intendant (mayor) of Tallahassee.”
But “historical records also documented other aspects of Eppes’ life, including his ownership of slaves at both of his Florida plantations,” according to the panel.
He also served as Justice of the Peace in Tallahassee “for which his duties would have included establishing ‘frontier’ law and order for the area and patrols for escaped slaves.”
Thrasher agreed to remove and curate a statue honoring Eppes at the university’s iconic Westcott Building. The statue was quietly removed in July, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
But Thrasher declined to change the name of Eppes Hall, the fifth building erected at the university that currently houses the school’s College of Criminology.
Instead, a contextualized marker will be placed in or near the building and will include details of his slave ownership and role as Justice of the Peace.