Forrest controversy opens forum for issues, discourse

Robert K Glenn

Much has been written about the appropriateness of the name Nathan Bedford Forrest on the Military Science Building on the MTSU campus.

["Movement rises to axe ‘Forrest’ from Hall," Nov. 20 I would like to clarify one or two points and elaborate on what the university’s position is on this issue.

The university annually receives numerous resolutions from the Student Government Association. While non-binding on the part of the university, these resolutions are an expression of the sense of the SGA and the students represented by that body.

The administration values these resolutions and takes seriously its responsibility to review them. The university also reserves the right to take action, or to take no action, based upon the administration’s best understanding of state law, the Tennessee Board of Regents policy and university policy.

The university has never taken a position on the appropriateness of the name Nathan Bedford Forrest and whether it should remain on the building in question. The building in question houses the Military Science Department and was named to honor the military accomplishments of Forrest. The original program for the naming of the building said, in part, "It is appropriate that the instructional unit devoted to military science and tactics be named in honor of the intrepid Confederate cavalry leader who won fame with his brilliant raids."

In every military conflict there are great generals who accomplish great things, but who are not necessarily great men.

In addition, the original resolution by the SGA has been rescinded, which means there is no pending request for action.

When the matter first became an item of public discussion, it was my recommendation to President Sidney McPhee that we view this as an opportunity for a public airing of the issues.

We have argued that issues being raised on both sides have legitimacy and are matters for open discussion. A university is supposed to be a "Marketplace of Ideas," where competing notions can be considered through rational discourse.

We believe that the best response to a situation like this is to provide a forum through which accurate information can be disseminated and opposing views heard.

As a result of the primary arguments voiced in a variety of forums, a group of faculty, staff and students has identified three basic issues for our initial discussions. Those issues include, but are not limited to, the history of how the name and image of Nathan Bedford Forrest has been used on campus, the development of the Ku Klux Klan and Forrest’s involvement with the organization and a discussion of the Battle of Fort Pillow.

I believe we will also want to discuss the wisdom of changing names of public buildings based upon current politics.

We expect to engage recognized scholars from across the South for these discussions. We expect these forums to be open to both the university and local communities. We will identify places in the community where we can host these discussions in order to make them more accessible. Because we expect that new issues for discussion will be identified throughout this process, these forums may extend over several semesters. They will be widely announced and publicized.

As we work to develop these discussions, we will appreciate the patience of everyone on both sides of the issues.

While we know this may not be the resolution for which either side was hoping, we believe it is a good university response. You are always welcome to share your thoughts and opinions. My office will act as a conduit throughout this process. You may contact me at 898-2440 or at

© Copyright 2007 The Sidelines