The University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Human Development is considering renaming itself and its main building, Ruffner Hall.
In an email sent to alumni Monday, Dean Bob Pianta said the school was seeking input about the names, which have ties to the Confederacy and slave ownership; the role the names play in the school’s services; and possible alternative names.
Conversations about the school’s name have been ongoing for several years. Pianta said that when the school decided to add “Human Development” to its name it also began looking into the legacy of its namesake, Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry.
“We received a number of questions from stakeholders about the name,” Pianta said in an interview. “Several people said, ‘If you’re going to look at the name, you should look at the whole name.’”
A committee has been researching Curry’s legacy for several years, Pianta said; now he has appointed an ad hoc committee to gather input about the names.
“As the Curry School looks ahead, with regard to mission, focus and impact on the public good, it is useful to assess the extent to which the honorific names it has used for the past 50-100 years, including both Curry and Ruffner (one of the school’s associated buildings), are closely aligned to our mission and core values,” he wrote.
When Edwin Alderman was inaugurated as the first president of UVa in 1905, John D. Rockefeller pledged $100,000 to found a school of education.
“Perhaps it may be possible with this to found a school of education to be called the Curry Memorial School of Education at the University of Virginia in commemoration [of] the great and distinguished services of Dr. Curry on behalf of popular education in the South,” Rockefeller wrote in his bequest, according to The Daily Progress archives.
According to Encyclopedia Virginia, Curry was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the First Confederate Congress and an officer in the Confederate army. After the Civil War, he became an advocate for public education in Virginia, working on both rebuilding destroyed schools and enforcing basic access to industrial schools for black students.
William Henry Ruffner was a slaveowner and chaplain who advocated for the gradual emancipation and colonization of the state’s African-Americans, according to the encyclopedia. He was the architect and first superintendent of Virginia’s segregated public school system. Ruffner Hall was named after him in 1974.
The committee’s research and recommendations will be sent to UVa’s Committee on Names for review, which makes recommendations to UVa President Jim Ryan, who then can make a proposal to the Board of Visitors. Pianta hopes to have a report from the committee in January.
Several buildings have been recently renamed at UVa. The School of Medicine’s Jordan Hall, originally named after a eugenicist and medical dean, was renamed to honor alumna Vivian Pinn, the only African-American and the only woman in her class and a trailblazer at the National Institutes of Health.
A building dedicated to Ivey Foreman Lewis, also a eugenicist and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, was rededicated to honor W.W. Yen, the university’s first graduate from China.