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Clemson removes Calhoun's name from Honors College, asks to rename Tillman Hall

The school is also asking for the authority to rename Tillman Hall on campus.
Credit: Clemson University

CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson University's Board of Trustees has renamed the school's honors college after a student petition asking for the change. 

The board voted Friday to take John C. Calhoun's name off the honors college, which had been named for Calhoun since 1982. The board also asked for the South Carolina General Assembly to allow it to change Tillman Hall back to its original name of Main Building. 

“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 Chairman Smyth McKissick. “Today’s 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.”

Calhoun was a U.S. Senator and Vice-President from South Carolina who's generally considered the state's most significant political figure of the 19th Century. However, Calhoun was a staunch supporter of slavery and urged defiance of any effort to stop the expansion of the slave trade. 

RELATED: SC lawmaker calls for removal of John C. Calhoun statue in Charleston

The plan to change the name of the Honors College began in 2018, predating the recent push nationally to rename or take down monuments of Confederate generals or historical figures with racist ideologies. Two years ago, the school had gotten recommendations on how to improve the honors program, and that was one of the suggestions. 

There has been an effort for years to rename Tillman Hall, named for former South Carolina Governor and U.S. Senator Benjamin Tillman. Tillman, who was in politics for decades in the late 1800s and early 1900s, advocating and enacting racist policies against blacks. 

RELATED: S.C. lawmaker pushes for removal of controversial Ben Tillman statue from State House grounds

But the board can't make that decision itself. The state legislature must approve allowing them to make that change, under the Heritage Act. 

Clemson wants a one-time only exemption next year from the General Assembly, with the understanding that this will be the only exemption it is requesting.

The school said its been working since 2015 on telling the full and complete history of Clemson. In that time they've put historical markers and updated signs to better reflect the complete history. 

"Our Trustees’ leadership today sends a clear message that Clemson University intends to be a place where all our students, employees and guests feel welcome,” said Clemson President James Clements. “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.”