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Wisconsin Union statement on Union Council decision regarding Porter Butts Gallery, Fredric March Play Circle

Posted: 08/07/18

Union Council, the governing body of the Wisconsin Union, in consultation with the family of Porter Butts, voted Aug. 6 to rename the Porter Butts Gallery in Memorial Union and to acknowledge his professional accomplishments through an interactive kiosk in another permanent non-programming location. The art gallery will be renamed the Main Gallery.

Union Council also voted to rename Fredric March Play Circle. The theater will be renamed the Play Circle. Union Council noted this is being renamed with the understanding that more research into Fredric March’s legacy is needed before a possible solution for recognition elsewhere in Memorial Union can be decided.

These actions are in response to concerns expressed by the campus community, including students, regarding Porter Butts’ and Fredric March’s names being on programming spaces. These concerns are in light of their participation in an honorary interfraternity society called the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the 1920s while they were University of Wisconsin-Madison students. No information has been found that connects the organization to any ideology.

In addition to considering community feedback, Union Council members reviewed known information regarding the honorary society to which Butts and March belonged. Council found no evidence that the organization was affiliated with the national Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Council also found that Butts took part in changing the organization’s name from the Ku Klux Klan to Tumas in 1923. Butts called the name Ku Klux Klan “curious, irrelevant, and very unfortunate”. Council also learned of two editorials published when he was managing editor of The Daily Cardinal that condemned the national Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

However, Council voted to move forward with renaming in consideration of the impact on students and other community members of affiliation with any organization called the KKK on students and other community members.

Union Council is grateful to Porter Butts’ family for coming forward and suggesting an approach that responds to community members’ concerns while still acknowledging Porter’s professional legacy. In his long career in Madison and as a national leader in the organization of student unions, Butts promoted policies of nondiscrimination, mutual understanding and openness to debate.

“If my father were alive today, he’d be leading the diversity and inclusivity efforts on campus,” says Sherrill Butts Randall of Middleton, Wis. “He devoted his career to making sure Memorial Union is a place where everyone feels welcome. It would break his heart to know that even one student feels uncomfortable there. It is in that spirit that we asked that his name be relocated and that his professional achievements be recognized in a different space.”

Union Council and the Wisconsin Union team are committed to inclusivity, the shared governance process that led to this decision, and to playing an active role in improving campus climate.

“Our shared governance process in Council gave voices to staff, faculty, students and alumni in this decision,” said Mark Guthier, Union director and Union Council member. “Shared governance produced a decision that speaks to the concerns of our community while acknowledging the importance of Porter’s role in our organization and in college unions across the country.”

The Wisconsin Union team and Union Council remain committed to working with Chancellor Rebecca Blank, the Chancellor’s Ad Hoc Study Group and other campus partners on the actions outlined by the study group.

Union Council Resolution Regarding Porter Butts Gallery and Fredric March Play Circle 
Aug. 6, 2018

In response to a motion passed at the April 25, 2018, Union Council meeting requesting further study of this issue over the summer, Union Council continued to meet. During May – July, 2018, Union Council studied the Chancellor’s Ad Hoc Study Group Report on the Ku Klux Klan at UW-Madison; worked with the family of Porter Butts to review additional archival materials on the activities of Porter Butts and Fredric March as students in the 1920s; reviewed biographical material on the professional lives of Butts and March; conducted open forums to hear from students and the larger community; and listened to the concerns of petitioners as to the existence of the named spaces.

In response to and in respect of students who have voiced their concerns regarding the named programming spaces in Memorial Union; and to responsibly place into context the entirety of Porter Butts’ and Fredric March’s lives; and to educate the campus and community on the student groups of the 1920s; and to allow sufficient time for due diligence to occur in completing the documentation of all facets of this story, Union Council resolves:

  • To relocate the Porter Butts name from the gallery before the 2018-19 academic year begins to another permanent non-programming location within Memorial Union, to add temporary signage near the gallery that explains the reasoning behind the renaming; and
  • To determine the most appropriate way to fully explain, recognize and honor the entirety of Porter Butts’ contribution to UW-Madison and the college union movement nationally, which would include:
    • In the short term, installing a temporary Porter Butts biographical piece in the Founder’s Room on the 2nd Floor of Memorial Union; and
    • Establishing a team consisting of students, staff and Wisconsin Union Association Trustees to develop content for an interactive kiosk about Porter Butts’ contributions, philosophy and impact, by the end of the 2018-19 academic year; and
    • Providing an account of both the inter-fraternity honorary society of the 1920s known as the Ku Klux Klan (which was sanctioned by the campus) and the larger national organization known as the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which also recognizes there will always be unknown facts about the possible connection between these groups; and
    • Working with campus leadership to identify books and other resources for the Hamel Family Browsing Library that speak to the values of diversity, inclusion, community-building and the Wisconsin Union (to be funded by action of Union Council); and
  • To remove Fredric March’s name from the Play Circle before the 2018-19 academic year begins with the understanding that more research into his legacy is needed before a possible solution for recognition elsewhere can be decided upon, to add temporary signage near the Play Circle that explains the reasoning behind the renaming; and
  • To include in Union Council’s public communication about this issue:
    • A call to action for the University to acknowledge the additional research about Porter Butts that has been discovered since the Ad Hoc Study Group Report; and
    • Affirmation of the role the Wisconsin Union will continue to play in improving campus climate; and
    • A commitment to actively engage in and support the work of our campus partners in fulfilling the recommendations of the Chancellor’s Ad Hoc Study Group Report.

*This resolution is to be considered an amendment to the April 25, 2018, resolution on this same topic (particularly, Item #2 from that resolution). Nothing in this resolution should negate the remaining provisions of that original resolution.

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