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LSU interim president Tom Galligan speaks during a planned peaceful blackout Wednesday demonstration to call for unity and promote change on campus, Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in the quad at LSU in Baton Rouge. Steps he proposed include renaming Middleton Library.

Some racism is easy to identify: riots at Ole Miss; George Wallace blocking the door at the University of Alabama; torchlight parades and death at the University of Virginia.

Removal of Confederate and segregationist statues, renaming buildings and streets on campus are easy steps university officials can take.

But the tougher step is to look deep into the institution’s history and examine how established university policies have perpetuated racism and White supremacy, said Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University and host of a virtual forum Tuesday night during which university leaders from around the country discussed the issues pressing higher education these days.

Louisiana’s nonunanimous juries is a good example of how a long-ago decision impacts ongoing racial injustice in the 21st Century. Ten out of 12 jurors voting to convict had been accepted by generations with little thought, at least among most jurors, because that’s the way it had always been done. This newspaper discovered that in 1898, Louisiana instituted the provision at a constitutional convention whose purpose, according to one its chairmen, was “to establish the supremacy of the white race in this state to the extent to which it could be legally and constitutionally done.” The result was more convictions among Black defendants.

That’s the sort of thing at least some universities hope to discover.

The recent outcry over the police killing of George Floyd and other African Americans offers motivation for higher education to take that uncomfortable step, Crow said.

He pointed to ASU’s 25-point directive, released earlier this month, that addresses racial injustice with the task forces, goals and calls for greater conversation that other universities include.

But Crow underlined what he saw as the most important component: appointing a lawyer to take a deep dive into the school’s history. ASU law Professor Victoria Sahani has been tasked with looking at how the university is structured and to determine what factors went into past decisions.

“It’s about facing it and looking at it square in the face,” Crow said. “Unless we can do that at a university, we can’t do it anywhere.”

Ruth Watkins, president of the University of Utah, added the way professors are hired and given tenure don’t reflect overt racism but often reinforce a hiring committee’s views of the credentials of a good educator. Following existing rules, “We hire people like us,” she said.

Other American universities also are reviewing their histories as a way to develop, as Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber put it in a July statement, policies that are blind “to any other factor not relevant to intellectual achievement.”

Yale Divinity School on Thursday joined the growing trend and will conduct a “serious audit” of Yale’s history of racism and its complicity with white supremacy. Renowned theologian Willie James Jennings, who teaches at Yale and co-chairs the committee in charge, told Yale’s student newspaper: “We want to understand as deeply and as carefully as possible the architecture of the problems we are inside of.”

LSU is not one of the institutions going back into its history to determine how old decisions impact the current system.

But interim LSU President Tom Galligan, who was also part of the forum, said Louisiana’s flagship recently established a committee on how to deal with building names that are reminders of a racist past and has released a detailed plan to address racial inequities.

More than any other university chief on Tuesday’s Zoom conference, Galligan heads an institution with a long history of racial discrimination. LSU's president routinely faces harsh blowback at most any effort to change campus traditions.

LSU didn’t admit a Black student into its undergraduate ranks until 1953. Since A.P. Tureaud Jr. attended — his interactions were primarily with maintenance and cafeteria workers rather than faculty — LSU has made great strides to recruit and retain Black students. Still, in the fall 2019 semester, the last with complete numbers, 13% of the flagship’s enrollment were African American. The state’s population is 32% Black.

The 15-page LSU Roadmap to Diversity includes such goals as “Consider converting, when appropriate, Opportunity Hire Fund salary subvention to start-up bonus for new faculty; in some fields, this might help attract faculty, even when salary might not be as competitive as at peer institutions.” LSU also wants to make faculty salaries comparable between the races, with 10% raises annually until equal.

By June 2021, LSU hopes to address diversity inequities by providing a “roadmap” to include more minority participation in fraternities and other student organizations.

Still, Galligan said Louisiana has to “own its history” before getting past it. “We got to say, ‘We were guilty of that,’” he told his colleagues.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.