Although recent protests have erupted around the country over other controversial statues, Stockton University President Harvey Kesselman said that controversy about the college’s namesake has been going on for several years.
“If you look in our 40th (anniversary), you’ll see that the discussion began to take place then,” Kesselman said, adding even during the university’s founding it was controversial. “It never was placed in context and I think that’s the most important thing about this.”
Stockton Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Lori Vermeulen sent a letter to the campus community Thursday to inform them of the decision to remove the statue.
Vermeulen said the mission of Stockton University — “to develop engaged and effective citizens with a commitment to lifelong learning and the capacity to adapt to change in a multicultural, interdependent world” — affords the university the responsibility to provide an opportunity for students to learn about the facts surrounding Richard Stockton’s place in American history as well as in Stockton’s history.
The removal of the bust is temporary, and will return with an exhibit that is being developed that will show a more historical perspective and one that will allow meaningful dialog about Richard Stockton as a controversial figure, Vermeulen explained.
Kesselman said the timing of the removal is relevant, thanks to recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and other cities around the country. He said he expects backlash, but the university tries to give an educational perspective to all issues and have a transparent conversation.
Kesselman said the college formed several committees this year, including one to address the Stockton bust. He said the committee will “take a very close look and have an honest and fair assessment of how we got to where we are.”