Clemson changes college name, asks legislators to alter Tillman

By Riley Morningstar
Courtesy The Journal

CLEMSON — Clemson University has changed the name of its honors college and requested the S.C. General Assembly change the name of Tillman Hall.

Clemson’s board of trustees unanimously approved dropping Calhoun from the school’s Honors College, named after former U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun. Calhoun defended the institution of slavery. Clemson’s campus is built on Calhoun’s Fort Hill Plantation.

Provost Bob Jones recommended the school rebrand and rename the honors college to the Clemson University Honors College. The change was approved unanimously.

Clemson is not the first school to drop Calhoun’s name from a program. In 2017, Yale University renamed its residential Calhoun College. Calhoun graduated from Yale in 1804.

“The decision to change a college’s name is not one we take lightly, but John C. Calhoun’s legacy as a white supremacist and a national leader who passionately promoted slavery as a ‘positive good’ fundamentally conflicts with Yale’s mission and values,” Yale president Peter Salovey said at the time.

A task force studying the Calhoun Honors College has been in place since 2018, according to Clemson president Jim Clements. Recommendations were going to be presented later this summer, he said, but the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody “expedited” decisions made by the school.

Request made to

state lawmakers

In recent weeks, several current and former Clemson football players have joined the chorus for the school to change the names of some campus buildings, including Tillman Hall.

At Friday’s meeting, trustees also unanimously approved a resolution asking for a one-time exemption from the Heritage Act to allow the school to change the name of Tillman back to its original name — the Main Building, often referred to as “Old Main.” The name of the building was changed to Tillman Hall in the 1940s in honor of former S.C. Gov. and U.S. Sen. Benjamin Tillman, who was an outspoken white supremacist.

Trustee Bob Peeler quoted the late civil rights leader Benjamin Mays while making the motion on Friday morning.

“Mr. Chairman and fellow board members, it’s time to do something unique and distinctive,” Peeler said. “Recent events in our nation show that as a country, we have much to learn and understand. Clemson has made strides, but we still have a long way to go.”

The resolution requests the General Assembly address the change in 2021, as lawmakers return in weeks to distribute federal COVID-19 dollars. They will also return in September to put the finishing touches on a budget.

“I’m very proud of our board and today’s actions,” chairman Smyth McKissick said. “Today’s work is a true reflection of the values of the university, which will lead us to a better future.”

In a media session with reporters, Clements said he did not believe any momentum would be lost in the request for the name change to take place in 2021 by the General Assembly.

“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,” he 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.”

Any name change for Tillman Hall will require a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of the South Carolina General Assembly. The law prohibits the “removal, changing or renaming of any local or state monument, marker, memorial, school or street erected or named in honor of the Confederacy or the civil rights movement.”

Clemson’s honors college is exempt from the act because it is a program and not a building.